German Director Dietrich Bruggemann's 'Heil' Makes Waves at Karlovy Vary

Heil Still - H 2015
Munich Film Fest

Heil Still - H 2015

The Munich-born director talks with THR about his loud, brash and absurd neo-Nazi mockumentary.

The competition screening for Heil last Saturday at Karlovy Vary's 2,000 seater Grand Hall was sold out with many members of the festival's largely young audience sitting in the aisles. Opening with a few seconds of archive footage of Nazi troops storming enemy strong points, the film cuts to the present day with one line onscreen: "Germany, 70 years later."

What follows is a darkly humorous tale of bungling cops, paranoid secret service agents and educationally-challenged neo-Nazis hell bent on recreating Hitler's fascist wartime regime. Director Dietrich Bruggemann, who won a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for a very different film, Stations of the Cross, a drama about a young girl's struggle with faith, talks with The Hollywood Reporter about his latest film.

What inspired you to make a comedy about a subject the Germans usually treat so seriously?

The film is based on a true story of a series of unsolved murders in Germany. Federal agencies had no clue - they thought the [ethnic] murders were gang feuds in the Turkish communities. They turned out to be the work of a three man neo-Nazi cell only uncovered when they committed suicide in 2011 - perhaps when they were about to be uncovered, it is unclear.

The whole details of this case were kind of hilarious - all these federal agencies not talking to each other. This made me think. Normally German films deal with this by trying to understand and go deeper. I thought, let's stay on the surface and do it as comedy.

Are you worried that some of the humor, very specific German jokes, will be lost on international audiences?

I'm convinced that some things will be lost, but there is enough left for international audiences to enjoy. We took a maximalist approach - put everything on the screen. It was clear at the screening that the audience here really enjoyed the film.

The film takes historically accurate details and uses them for comic purpose - do you think younger audiences will realize that the neo-Nazi attack on Poland is based precisely on Hitler's plans from 1939?

In Germany people know these facts, but you can enjoy the film even if you don’t. History is repeated first as tragedy and then as farce - that was the guideline we used for this film.

Is Germany ready for such a film?

The film premiered at the Munich Film Festival last week and had a 20 minute standing ovation. People went wild. It will be released in Germany July 16. After I got the Silver Bear in Berlin last year for Stations of the Cross I knew I had a brief window of opportunity, which I seized to make this film. When we shot the film we used a different title and did no press work, as we knew the subject was controversial.

Is there an international market for your film?

It is going to the Jerusalem Film Festival next week and I am sure that it will sell to the UK - I was shaped as an artist by inhaling the entire works of Monty Python - and I think Austria and Eastern Europe will like it. In America some people will like it. This is probably the first film in history with a gay dog sex scene - which was done using CGI as the original "certain parts" of the lower dog that you see on screen were not there in reality.

What's next?

First a music video and then I must go back to a script I have in my drawer out about a old men catching up on drug abuse. It is in English, set in California and has nothing German about it whatsoever.