Academy Award Nominee: Colonel Bunker (Kolonel Bunker)

Albanian Film: Colonel Bunker (French-Albanian-Polish)
A 3B Prods. (Paris)/Orafilm (Tirana)/Film Studio Dom (Warsaw) production.
Produced, directed and written by Kujtim Cashku, Camera (color), Afrim Spahiu, Jerzy Rudzinski;
Editor, Kahena Attia-Roveill; Music, Andrez Krause; Production Design, Shaqir Veseli:
Costume Design, Astrit Tota; Sound, Ilir Gjata.
Reviewed at the Thessalonika Film Festival, Greece, Nov. 12, 1996. Running time: 103 Min.

Muro Neto (Colonel Bunker)…………….Agim Qirjaq
Ana, his wife…………………………………Anna Nehrebec
With: Cun Lajci, Guljem Radoja, Kadri Roshi, Petrit Malaj

Film Review: VARIETY, Dec. 9-15, 1996 A dark-hued political parable based on fact, “Colonel Bunker” shows in stark detail the lengths to which an insanely paranoid regime will go to terrorize its own people. Occasional technical weaknesses, and one or two self-consciously poetic interludes, do blunt the film’s grimly humorous impact. Director Kujtim Cashku’s ninth feature (submitted by Albania for the forthcoming best foreign-language pic Oscar) deserves to put his country’s little-known movie industry on the map.

In 1974, the hard-line Stalinist Enver Hoxha regime, having quarreled with virtually every other state in the world, retreated into sulky isolation. A program known as “bunkerization” was instituted with 700,000 semi-subterranean concrete bunkers to be built for the population of 3 million in case of hostile action by any of Albania’s myriad enemies. The program, which calls on virtually the entire economic resources of Europe’s most impoverished country, is to continue until 1981.

Cashku’s film focuses on the man chosen to organize this concrete nightmare: Muro Neto, a professional soldier who becomes known as “Colonel Bunker.” Secretly skeptical about his task, he nonetheless obeys. However, the same day that he’s assigned the job, Albania’s politburo decides to abolish all military ranks, thus thwarting him of an expected generalship. When Neto finally displays his resentment publicly, it brings about his downfall.

Early on, there’s a scene — in darkness cut by flashing lights and wailing sirens — where a panicky populace is hurried down into underground shelters by uniformed figures. What makes the familiar sequence so bizarre is that the people are bewildered peasants driving their cows and goats along with them. The deranged response of Albania’s leaders to an imagined external threat underlines the film’s message that the true enemy of the people was their own government.

As portrayed by Albanian actor Agim Qiraqi, Neto is no stone-faced appararatchik but a troubled figure, forcing himself to go along with a policy he knows is insane. His one anchor is his love for his Polish wife, Ana, played with moving dignity by Anna Nehrebecka.

With its moody lighting, Afrim Spahiu’s lensing enhances the film’s atmosphere, though occasionally shaky editing and continuity mar the effect. Inclusion of some confusing, would-be lyrical episodes involving a pair of English-speaking youngsters making love in the bunkers is a mistake, as is a clinched ending, in which Neto dies. (The real-life Neto is still alive, and helped with the making of the film). However, such lapses matter little, given the revelatory power of the story the pic tells. — Philip Kemp

INTERNATIONAL AWARDS FOR COLONEL BUNKER:

– Winner “Le Prix de la Critique” Mediterranean Film Festival, Bastia, France, 1996
– “Special Jury Prize” International Film Festival, Izmir, Turkey, 1996
– Official Entry OSCAR-96 for the Best Foreign Language Award, 1996
– “Selected Official Competition” Montreal World Film Festival, Canada, 1997
– “GRAND PRIX” Eurofilm Festival, Saint Etienne, 1997
– Premio-CICT-IFTC (UNESCO) 1998
– “Grand National Prix” Albanian Film Festival, Tirana, 2000

*Colonel Bunker was among 39 films selected for the Oscar prize. Before arriving in Los Angeles, the film was sent to Montreal, Canada where it was selected for showing at the A Series Film Festival, and then to the International Film Festival in Salonika, Greece, and the Strasbourg European Film Festival in Germany.

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