Bungalow (2002)

12 07 2008

If there were any doubts (and in my mind, there weren’t) in Ulrich Kohler being one of the best directors working right now, then they can surely be tossed aside. His second film and first masterpiece, Bungalow, manages to contain everything that would make his follow-up Windows on Monday so great but such elements are presented in a slightly different way. This film ends up being too short to really match the greatness of Ulrich’s later film, but it really is just as great. Bruno Dumont and Michael Haneke make similar films, but I would go as far as to say that Kohler tops both of them. He’s making the warmest and most humane films within the whole “cold European minimalism” spectrum of cinema.

A reserved and alienated youth by the name of Paul decides to run away from his duties in the army. He returns home to find that since his departure, some things have changed. Immediately, we notice his girlfriend, Kerstin and her very odd behavior. She tells him that “things are no longer the same” before leaving on her motorbike. Meanwhile, Paul notices the arrival of his brother Max who has brought along his girlfriend, Lene. Unaffected by his break-up with Kerstin, Paul begins to show signs of an interest in Lene. This stirs up more problems with his brother, who he has never really gotten along with and to make matters worse, the military police is on the search to find and then arrest the recently escaped soldier.

Oddly enough, I’ve heard Bungalow described as being a “political” film, which seems pretty silly, not to mention completely false. If one were to group the film under any sort of category, it would probably be the “bored, angsty, and alienated teens” genre, which certainly covers a wide variety of aesthetics. In particular, Bungalow features the thematic and visual grace of Dumont’s Life of Jesus and Flandres. The latter should probably only be mentioned to provide an example of another film that depicts the army in such a formalistic fashion. Unlike Dumont’s film, Kohler never shows any missions nor does he show any signs that Paul has ever been in danger. In fact, the protagonist’s decision to run (actually just stay behind at a Burger King) seems to come from sheer boredom. So yeah this is not as intense as a Dumont film, nor is it as cynical but that’s probably why I like it so much more.

One of the biggest reasons why Kohler’s sensibility is so less heavy than his peers is the humor, a weapon also used by Tsai Ming-Liang to avoid the depths of truly cynical cinema. Like Tsai, Kohler’s humor comes from very subtle moments, in which the audience is forced to observe the absurdity of a situation, but also comes to term with the emotional repercussions. The laughs here do not sugarcoat the situation, but never does one feel an arrogant sense of “seriousness” that is possibly present in the films of Michael Haneke. This is not to slam Haneke and other misanthropic filmmakers, but instead, proves what is so fantastic about Kohler’s cinematic world. There is real heartbreak here and real people feel it, but these people are fully realized and not chess pieces in a sadistic game. That might sound a little hyperbolic (as well as cliché) but it goes to show just how much of a humanist Kohler is and thus, an amazing director.

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