March 31, 2016 | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
The title of Dietrich Brüggemann’s latest film may evoke the grimness of straight-armed salutes and “white power” cries, but the German writer/director aims more for silly, calling it a “reckless comedy.”
In “HEIL,” a group of inept neo-Nazis in the small German town of Prittwitz run into Sebastian, an African-German writer and activist on a book tour. After a blow to the head, Sebastian loses his memory and can only repeat what he hears. As the neo-Nazis use him as an anti-integration puppet while also plotting an invasion of Poland, Sebastian’s pregnant girlfriend travels to Prittwitz and teams up with a local police officer to rescue him.
Brüggemann says he drew inspiration from the news—namely from the story of the National Socialist Underground murders that broke in 2011—and from “Four Lions”—a 2010 British dark comedy about Islamist suicide bombers. Brüggemann also names “lots and lots of Monty Python” and the Coen brothers among his stylistic influences. Like “Four Lions,” this film doesn’t tread sensitively over easily offensive material. “HEIL” tramples modern German identity, mocking everyone from neo-Nazis to liberal intellectuals.
“Satire is the only serious way of dealing with politics when you're a filmmaker,” Brueggemann says.
He is known for more serious films, such as “Stations of the Cross,” which screened at last year’s Cleveland International Film Festival. But Brueggemann sees a funny side to all of his films.
Although he normally considers it wise to “abandon a film when it’s been premiered”—at the 2015 Munich International Film Festival in this case—the writer/director is curious to see how differently the American audience reacts to “HEIL.” “A comedy,” he says, “more than other films, is like a machine that you build and then enjoy watching how it works—or fails.”
Like the CIFF, Brüggemann himself recently turned 40. “It's horrible!” he says. “I guess I'd just do my best to support the festival and help it get through these hard days without too much emotional turmoil and midlife self-deprecation.”
Brüggemann is full of self-deprecation as he muses about audiences throwing tomatoes at the screen or at him. Although he isn’t quite sure how Americans will react to his latest film, he says he’s “looking forward to all those Donald Trump references when people talk about the film afterwards.”
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