Bungalow ­ Ulrich Köhler’s homage to Bob Rafelson

The opening tracking shot in Ulrich Köhler’s Bungalow awakens your interest. Patrick Orth’s camera picks up an army transport truck on a highway as it coasts to an intersection, then follows it down a lane to a parking lot next to a roadside restaurant, where young recruits pile out to head for relief and refreshments ­ and the camera only grounds to a stop when it reaches an outside table to focus on the greenhorn Paul (Lennie Burmeister), who is about to go AWOL from the company for no apparent reason other than that he is bored. Next we see Paul on a train to a provincial town, where his architect father has a summer bungalow. There he discovers that his girlfriend Kerstin (Nicole Gläser) has broken off their loose relationship during the months that he was away. And he is surprised by the arrival of his older brother Max (Devid Striesow), together with Lene (Trine Dyrholm), his Danish girlfriend, who is on her way to München to play in a movie ­ a offer that falls through while they are at the bungalow.
        Now everyone is stranded. In fact, no one knows what to do next. Max, when he finds out that Paul has deserted, is irritated ­ the more so when he notes that Lene is showing some sympathy for the situation and a bit of interest in Paul as well. But when an army patrol arrives to enquire about Paul’s whereabouts, Max reluctantly covers for this brother ­ with the added admonishment: »It’s your life ­ go ahead and ruin it, if that’s what you want!« From this point on, however, the brothers become rivals ­ and for the next four days the bungalow becomes an island. It functions, in Köhler’s words as an »outer space station«, where time is compressed, decisions are shelved, indifference becomes a form of protest. Paul is also gradually losing control of his senses.
       Towards the end of the film, Paul finally manages a tryst with Lene in a motel room. But even this rendezvous comes to nothing. When he phones the barracks on his own to report his AWOL presence, the interlude at the bungalow is over. The passage of youth to adulthood is also apparently over. The army patrol arrives at the motel to pick him up ... or so it seems.

        Ulrich Köhler studied art in Quimper, France, then philosophy at the University of Hamburg before enrolling in the Department of Visual Communication at the Hamburg School of Fine Arts. One of his classmates there was Henner Winckler, whose debut feature Klassenfahrt (Class Trip) premiered in the Forum at the 2002 Berlinale (see KINO 76) at the same time as his own Bungalow premiered in the Panorama. In fact, the nonprofessional protagonists in these films ­ Ronny (Steven Sperling) in Class Trip and Paul (Lennie Burmeister) in Bungalow ­ bear a strong resemblance to each other: both youths are constrained in their relationships with others by their sparse vocabularies, meaningless gestures, lethargic movements, and an annoying absence of any moral or ethical motivation for their actions.
        Queried about possible influences on his personal directorial style and the making of Bungalow, Ulrich Köhler cites Antonioni ­ »for his sketches of psychologically barren figures« ­ and the American cinema of the 1970s, particularly Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Blacktop (1971) and Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970). »Those familiar with Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces,« said Köhler, »will surely note the parallel between the ending in his film and mine ­ it’s visible at a glance.« Following its debut in the Panorama last year, Bungalow has been awarded the Hessischer Filmpreis and the Main Jury Prize at Schwerin. Lennie Burmeister was awarded Best Actor Award at Buenos Aires.

Ronald Holloway