Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cruel harsh reality or fiction dressed up as life?

Despair. Agony. Anger. Misery. Helplessness. Depression.

The above words could be used to describe the emotions that some soccer fans might have felt last week at their nations failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championship in Austria/Switzerland.


The above words could be used to describe the emotions that the characters experience in Austrian Ulrich Seidl's films.


Bright hot sunny days. Just another day in the suburbs. Nothing ever really happens. Silence & Sun. How to rid of the boredom?

Trim the hedges.

Or just lay around the pool.

Or one can engage in boring mechanical sex orgies (what, no pictures!!).

A microcosm of a nation or an independent culture existing within a nation?:

Ulrich Seidl's Dog Days is set in an Austrian suburb. But nothing in the film can be used to describe Austria itself -- the people depicted in the suburbs may be fictional characters or based on real life individuals but their stories can't be used as a lens to observe an entire culture. But can a suburb ever represent a culture? Even though American Beauty was praised for highlighting the suburban life, it was not representative of the American culture. Director Sam Mendes and writer Alan Ball could easily have portrayed a different set of happier and more confident characters who lived on the other side of the street. Similarly, Ulrich Seidl could have focused on characters who didn't live such bleak and depressive lives. But happy characters don't present audiences with many intelligent challenges. Not to mention that misery tends to win more awards!

Reality or fiction pretending to be reality?:

In both Dog Days & Import/Export, Seidl has filmed scenes in real locales (suburbs, apartment complexes with all the mess & garbage or an internet sex chat room) with a mix of non-professional and professional actors. Also, the camera keeps a slight distance from the characters allowing the audience to feel like a silent observer ("fly on the wall"). Such tactics appear to give the two films a verite feel and it is tempting to label the movies as 'realistic'. But that realistic feel disappears every time Dog Days rapidly cuts to a different character -- those multiple cuts do provide a reminder that Dog Days is still a manufactured film.

One can compare Seidl's style with that of Philippine film-maker Brillante Mendoza. Mendoza has shot both his 2007 films Slingshot and Foster Child on location as well (shanty towns) with a mix of professional and non-professional actors. But Mendoza used close-ups and long takes in equal proportions to fully involve the audience. Plus, his movies had more interesting story lines.

Suburbs with a difference:

American Beauty focused on a suburban family with the teenagers given some screen time. Larry Clark's Ken Park also focuses on suburban issues but looks at the movie from a teenager's point of view. Whereas, Seidl's Dog Days looks at older & retired people in the suburbs. But the age does not stop Seidl's characters in engaging in ménage à trois or sex orgies much like characters in a Larry Clark movie.


I am glad that I first saw Seidl's 2007 film Import/Export before visiting his older 2001 work, Dog Days. Import/Export focuses on two central characters and does not hide the ugliness and misery in these characters lives. But the movie is not as harsh and savage as Dog Days is. In fact, the hopelessness and cruelty shown in Dog Days makes Import/Export look like a feel good happy movie!

  • Dog Days (2001): Rating 6.5/10
  • Import/Export (2007): Rating 9/10
  • No comments: