German helmer Dietrich Brüggemann’s fifth feature “Heil,” which has its international premiere today in competition at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, is an acerbic social satire that explores contemporary German identity by poking politically incorrect fun at past history, neo-Nazis, race relations, anti-fascists, liberal intellectuals, the government; indeed, the current state of the nation.
Multihyphenate Brüggemann also served as composer as well as co-producer. Was it because it was difficult to find funding for a film about neo-Nazis? He notes, “We were way under our ideal budget, but we pulled it off. Received wisdom in Germany tells us that we have to be very serious about these things (and when you’re funny, it should be blunt). My first thought when writing the first outline was: Nobody is gonna finance this. . . It still wasn’t easy, we made the film in quite a hurry for several reasons, and acting as a co-producer was essentially me putting the entire director’s fee back into the budget.”
Is this a topic that could only be dealt with through genre? Brüggemann says, “Satire seems to me to be the only possible format at all that somehow can cinematically get a hold of the complex reality. Much of what we see in the film is inspired by actual events, when reality itself almost becomes satirical. Social and political interaction is usually complex and involves a lot of characters, and so is satire. It’s also a type of film that doesn’t ask for psychological identification or emotional journeys, but takes people’s choices at face value and asks for the consequences, which is also a good way of dealing with politics, I guess.”
Sure, but will the film be understood outside of Germany? “Conventional knowledge tells us that comedy doesn’t travel,” Brüggemann says, “but I don’t agree. Much of what I do was shaped by inhaling the complete works of Monty Python, so that definitely travelled. Maybe the truth is that good comedy is hard to do, and bad comedy doesn’t travel. . . my film already won over the hearts of the Karlovy Vary selectors, so I’m cautiously confident. The world is getting smaller, entertainment is getting more and more globalized, and I think there’s a new generation of filmmakers (and audiences, too) that speak a global language of humor.”