Monday, August 29, 2016

VODepths: 'Der Bunker,' 'Collective: Unconscious,' 'There Is a New World Somewhere'

Der Bunker (Pit Bukowski, Daniel Fripan, Oona von Maydell, David Scheller, dir. Nikias Chryssos) I'm not sure what to make of this bizarre German movie, which is a bit David Lynch, a bit John Waters, a bit Terry Gilliam and a bit completely its own unique thing. It all takes place inside the semi-underground home of a twisted family, a nameless mother and father and their son Klaus, who is either a childlike adult or just an adult actor playing a child. An academic (referred to only as "the student") rents a room so that he can have peace and quiet to work on his obviously nonsensical projects, but he's soon drawn into the family's demented world when they enlist him as Klaus' tutor. Oh, also, the mother has a leg sore that talks to her and may be the manifestation of an alien presence. The set design and costumes are fantastically ugly, especially Klaus' ridiculous little-boy outfits, and the actors really commit to their performances. But to me most of it felt like weirdness for its own sake, and eventually the oddball scenarios become repetitive. It's hard to have any emotional investment in characters who behave this strangely, and there isn't enough humor for the movie to work as a dark comedy. It ends on a moment that's probably meant to be cathartic, but just made me glad that the frustrating experience was over. Available on Vimeo.

Collective: Unconscious (dir. Lily Baldwin, Frances Bodomo, Daniel Patrick Carbone, Josephine Decker, Lauren Wolkstein) This omnibus feature played at a few festivals earlier this year (including SXSW) and is now available online for free, including via BitTorrent in a version that includes a bunch of DVD-style extras. It's an interesting concept, with five filmmakers each creating short films inspired by one of the other filmmakers' dreams. Like most anthology films, it's inconsistent, although the dream concept ensures that all five segments are surreal and unsettling in different ways. Only one features anything resembling traditional dialogue scenes, and none of them make linear sense. Even the most tedious segment, Decker's "First Day Out," has some striking and haunting images, and the whole experience is indeed dreamlike and disorienting. My favorite segment was the first, Carbone's "Black Soil, Green Grass," which is shot in gorgeous high-contrast black-and-white and functions powerfully as a sci-fi allegory for asserting freedom and individuality against harsh authoritarianism. It follows its own internal logic and is more plot-driven than the other segments, while maintaining the surprising and inexplicable qualities of dreams. The brief framing segments feature a soothing hypnotist advising the audience to treat watching the movie like listening to music, just letting it wash over you, and that's probably the best way to approach the experience. Available on Vimeo.

There Is a New World Somewhere (Agnes Bruckner, Maurice Compte, Ashley Bell, dir. Li Lu) Years ago, I was impressed with Bruckner in a little movie called Blue Car and hoped to see her graduate to bigger things, but nearly 15 years later she's still relegated mostly to TV guest appearances and movies like this one, obscure indie productions of dubious value. I saw this at the 2015 Las Vegas Film Festival, where it won an award for writer-director Lu, although I found it pretty tedious and uninvolving. Its setup, with Bruckner as an aimless young woman who impulsively sets out on a road trip with an alluring man she just met, is standard indie-movie fare, and Lu never takes it in an interesting or unique direction. This isn't the heady romance of Before Sunrise (although it does shamelessly copy one of that movie's more memorable sequences), but it also never quite takes the dark, dangerous turns that it hints at periodically. The two characters never have a strong enough connection or conflict, and neither one is particularly interesting or likable. The movie ends up as a dull road trip to nowhere, sadly reflective of Bruckner's career. Available on iTunes.

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