Alex Kittle, 366 Weird Movies: I was struck by the retro aesthetic, the mix of patterns and saturated lighting, and attention to detail in the set and costumes in Der Bunker. What made you decide to do a single location film? What were your inspirations for the look of the bunker? Did you face challenges with the limited space?
Nikias Chryssos: My grandparents had a holiday house in Switzerland. It had this big bunker room in the basement with a thick iron door as a shelter for wartime. I imagined it would be funny if someone wants to rent a room and he basically gets locked away. I wanted to build a story about a place like this. Initially, the film was set in a kind of fairytale house in the woods but when we found the entrance to this bunker during our location search, we decided to put the whole story underground. The limited setting gave us a lot of control but also provided us with specific challenges. My production designer Melanie Raab, the cinematographer Matthias Reisser, and I then did a lot of research and the main challenge was to make the setting interesting even though everything takes place in one house. We wanted to give the different rooms different colors and moods but still keep it coherent. We also worked with different lighting set-ups, like more contrast during the night scenes and softer light in the day, even though the light might not change that much underground. As the student, our main protagonist, is working on some big scientific work, it was also interesting to work with patterns and build little connections there, whether it is the wallpaper, the walls, his blanket, the door frames or Klaus’ pajamas. Sometimes, these patterns also give the feeling of a prison cell. Thanks to great production design team, I never had the feeling something I wanted wasn’t possible. Another challenge was to not go mad in such a claustrophobic set during the shoot.
366: Much of the film’s tension centers around Mother’s intense hold on her son, and fear of allowing him to grow up and leave her. What led you to approach the mother character with that angle? What about this theme resonates with you?
NC: I feel there is a big fear in today’s parents that their children might not make it, a fear they become a failure, and they don’t let them go. It may lead to a weird mixture of being overly demanding and over-protective at the same time, and I think that’s a hard situation for a child. Maybe it comes down to the old question of freedom versus security which we face again and again on different levels. DER BUNKER might be a take on this fear as well as maybe a satiric view on a certain bourgeois way of education, an education without much reflection. In some way, Klaus is an image of someone who’s not allowed to grow up naturally. “The Last Man Alive” by A.S., who was the founder of the anti-authoritarian boarding school Summerhill, used to be one of my favorite books. I was quite interested in education as a topic for a while as I think our upbringing plays a very important role in our attitude towards the world and who we become.
366: The story takes a bizarre and unexpected twist with the mystery of Mother’s leg – did you start out with Heinrich’s identity in mind when writing the script, or did the story change as you worked on it?
NC: I invited the actors very early to the development process of the film. Basically, I wrote the roles for them, which was very helpful to picture the characters in my mind. I was fooling around with Oona who plays the mother about her role, and she started to talk in this distorted voice. We thought it would be interesting if there is something or someone the mother communicates with, someone inside herself. That voice became Heinrich. We did a lot of research, listened to exorcism tapes and so on, and Oona always said, Heinrich shouldn’t sound too much like Gollum. For me, there is also a religious aspect to the story, the family as a small cult, with the mother as the medium who is the only one able to communicate or channel the “God figure.” Like in a haunted house, the place is possessed, the mother is, too, and this power gives her more authority and leverage. She can always refer to Heinrich, like someone who quotes the Bible: “It’s not me who’s saying that, it’s God, it’s in the Bible.”
366: The performance of Daniel Fripan stands out as delightfully strange. What was the casting process like? How did you direct him in the role to see this unique character realized? Was he inspired by any children you’ve known, or perhaps your own childhood?
NC: Daniel Fripan and I had worked together before on one of my short films, “Tower Block.” He usually gets cast for “tough” characters like bullies, crooks, Nazis, but he’s a really fun and lovable person in real life, so it was interesting to picture him playing an 8-year-old. We hadn’t seen each other for two years or so when we met and I told I wanted to shoot this movie and if he could imagine starring as a 8-year-old (or alleged 8-year-old). He immediately jumped on my lap, hugged me, and fluttered his eyelashes, and that was the casting. Later, we went to his old elementary school and spent a morning in one of the classes. It was great, the children loved Daniel and I think he used a few things, gestures, facial expression he picked up that day.
366: We focus on “weird” movies on our site, and your film definitely fits that description in a wonderful way. Who are some of your favorite weird filmmakers? Any favorite bizarre films you’d recommend to our readers?
NC: I like movies that transport you to another world or movies that seem to come from another world. A movie I watched very often before making DER BUNKER, was CALVAIRE by . It’s the story of a run-down singer who gets stranded in the woods and is picked up by a lonely man who uses him as replacement for his wife. There is something in the texture that I could just watch it again and again and always discover something new.
Another great and mysterious film is ARREBATO by Iván Zulueta. HARD TO BE A GOD is crazy, it feels like a movie from another planet. One of my all-time favorites is IF…. by –which is maybe not so surprising because it’s about rebellion in a boarding school. And a great documentary is the Japanese THE EMPEROR NAKED ARMY MARCHES ON, a picture about a political activist, and it’s best to see this with knowing much else. But it’s the portrait of a man with a very distinct mindset and that is very interesting.
Of course, I also like films by directors like 2001 by Stanley Kubrick is completely weird—and maybe the weirdest thing is that such a crazy movie could ever get made on a scale like this, and I’m thankful for that., , , , the . I think often, movies that are considered weird are just films that follow their own inner logic. Sometimes I think it’s weird when people say some of these films are mental masturbation by the filmmakers and they don’t show respect for the audience—but isn’t it much more respectful to make something with your entire heart and soul and then present it, than thinking in advance about what some kind of audience might want to see? At least when it’s about art. I think anything that is mysterious, spiritual, unexplained, experimental, transcendental, fantastic, could be considered a weird movie—or was considered a weird movie when it came out and then was taken in to the “canon.” In that sense, a movie like
366: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you’re excited about?
NC: Yes! I have two more scripts I have written myself that I would like to make and that are in financing now and bigger in scale, but still follow my thematic interests as well as my interest in the medium. Also, I just received some funding for a new project that I call a “modern voodoo thriller,” although it will probably become or turn into something else. I’m really looking forward to continuing the research for that. And I’m working on something very different, a children’s movie—for real children.