Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Bunker of the Last Gunshots

A group of soldiers of indeterminate nationality shelter in an isolated bunker, on a state of alert against an enemy attack. The all-clear sounds and they stand down, but tensions remain high.

Some form of scientific research seems to be in progress, even though the lab boys appear more interested in killing flies and cockroaches. One of the technicians accidentally triggers a device, beginning a countdown. This provides the impetus for increasingly paranoid and violent behaviour among the men.

‘The Bunker of the Last Gunshots’ is a 24-minute film devoid of dialogue. I would have described it as a silent film, except for the specificity of the sound design. In fact, in a surreal and occasionally disorienting piece of work where ambiguity is the order of the day – is it set in World War II or a retrogressive future? are the soldiers German, Russian or another nationality? who are they fighting? – only the soundscape offers something definite: heavy boots on concrete, the ping of sonic instruments, the blurting of an alarm, the hum of electricity and, in the final moments, the gunshots of the title.

Caro and Jeunet (thus is the directors credit assigned) adopt a style that comes across as Sergei Eisenstein meets David Lynch. The visuals are desaturated, the dominant palette being grey with the occasional wash of blue. It’s the first indication of the use of colour that informs all of Jeunet’s work, be it the rusty browns of ‘Delicatessen’ or the burnished amber of ‘Amelie’.

The look is everything: it defines the nightmare the characters are trapped in; defines the psychoses that isolation, fear of attack and the threat of sudden death have germinated with them. Dialogue would only hinder this film.

‘The Bunker of the Last Gunshots’ isn’t, if I’m being perfectly honest, an immediately likeable film. My first reaction was to be impressed at the visual style, moderately entertained by the bizarre goings-on and fairly nonplussed at the nicely ironic but rather predictable ending. In some respects, it’s like watching a second tier ‘Twilight Zone’ episode when you know what the payoff is. Also, the sheer level of cynicism is surprising, leading you to wonder how telling it is that Caro gets first billing. ‘Bunker’ presents a bleak vision of mankind; if the emphasis were less on grand guignol images and more on character study, it’d be a cold and brutal thing to sit through. Imagine a version by Michael Haneke … or rather don’t.

What it does demonstrate, however, is Jeunet and Caro’s mastery of the visual medium. What better way for a pair of nascent directors to prove they can tell a story, establish a setting or conjure an atmosphere than by relying solely on the juxtaposition of images? Think of how many great set-pieces Jeunet has created that are purely visual: certainly more than one in each film. The symphony of eccentric lives conducted to the creaking of bedsprings in ‘Delicatessen’; the terrifying underwater sequence in ‘Alien Resurrection’; Amelie’s revenge on the bullying greengrocer. There are plenty more … and if you’re not overly familiar with the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (with or without Caro as a collaborator), then have fun discovering them.

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