Posts Tagged ‘ULRICH SEIDL’

Im Keller (2014) In The Basement – Venice International Film Festival 2014

Director: Ulrich Seidl

Writers: Ulrich Seidl, Veronika Franz

81min  Doc  Austria

After exploring the sex lives of a three contemporary women (Love, Hope, Paradise), Austrian maverick, Ulrich Seidl, plumbs the domestic cellars of his homeland for more outrageous material in his latest documentary Im Keller (In The Cellar).  A word normally applied to horror film ‘unheimlich’ describes these underground ‘cribs’ that are the total opposite of cosy: translating as ‘uncanny’ but literally meaning ‘unhomely’ – it seems a particularly appropriate way to describe Seidl’s discoveries. The opening sequences make increasingly bewildering viewing, as we meet group of characters who appear only too happy to share with us their unusual habits and hobbies in this subterranean world. With his regular collaborator Veronika Franz, Seidl’s preoccupation with obesity, nudity and S&M goes hand in hand with religious bigotry and undercover Nazis (Hitler was, of course, Austrian) – all are alive and kicking in the homes of everyday Austrian folk.

Indie and art house audiences with a penchant for the macabre and Seidl’s dark brand of humour will certainly flock to see Im Keller even though it is, in parts, a sight for sore eyes. It certainly proves that in Austria as well as Yorkshire there’s ‘nowt so queer as folk”. One woman hides a series of baby-like dolls in cardboard boxes. As she mollycoddles and soothes them in the basement of the house, her Nazi husband sits upstairs under a prized portrait of Hitler, given as a wedding present: “unwrapping it, I nearly went out of my mind”, he comments with zeal. Another man uses his cellar to house his collection of ‘small game’ trophies (of antilope, kudu etc) and hones his skills at shooting with some target practice and a series of lethal firearms.

As we progress through the ranks of weirdos indulging their obsessions below stairs, Seidl moves onto more x-rated material. A couple who enjoy extreme sexual role-play (BDSM) explain and demonstrate the ethos behind their proclivities: “trust is the most vital element”.  Another woman takes us through the bondage routines involved in being a sexual masochist – it emerges, ironically, that during the day she works in a centre for abused woman.  All this is captured through Martin Gschlacht’s cold-eyed lens, with Seidl’s eerie trademark fixed framing, seen in previous outings. The phrase ‘cognitive dissonance’ springs to mind all through this odd documentary.  Seidl’s treatment of his subject-matter is completely dead pan and non-judgemental and the juxtaposition of these grotesque images and the gallows humour will make you squirm in your seats. MT




Paradise: Hope (2012) (Paradies: Hoffnung)

Paradise: Hope is the third feature of the Ulrich Seidl’s trilogy of films focusing on female stories in a contemporary Austria. This one is based Teresa’s 13 year-old daughter Melanie, the 13-year-old daughter of Paradise: Love‘s character: Melanie is verging on obesity and is dispatched to a health camp for teenage fatties in the Austrian Alps, while Teresa goes in search of sex in Kenya.  Once there the homesick Melanie soon finds herself sharing a room with another overweight teen Verena, (Verena Lehbauer) and exchanging sweets and salacious stories about their experiences with the opposite sex.  There’s nothing new here about the sex-tinged gossip, it’s much the same as it was in my day but the obesity is what really stands out in these contemporary teenagers.


Ulrich Seidl uses the same observational style here that works so well in Paradise: Love, using minimal dialogue and lingering camera shots that leave space to speculate on and enjoy his darkly humorous and provocative narrative. It’s a style that works particularly well here leaving the audience to engage with the characters and the mood of his light but unsettling narrative.

During the regular medical examinations, Melanie (Lenz) starts to develop a plausible but inappropriate attraction to the in-house doctor, a man in his fifties. Joseph Lorenz gives a brilliant and highly inventive turn as Arzt. He doesn’t come across as a family man and could almost be a player, but Seidl leaves this very much to our imagination and in the process creates a seductive image that provides a clever counterpoint to Teresa’s male predators in Paradise: Love.

Melanie gradually emerges as a vulnerable character with a well-developed sense of her own sexuality and the ability to seduce and beguile: she an utterly normal teenager.  In a quirky but poignant portrait of first love, the strange chemistry that develops between her and the doctor brings elements of suspense and titillation to the proceedings leaving us to speculate on how the story will progress; in other words: who will seduce whom? The outcome is quirky and disturbing but not as you would expect.

The other male lead is the archetypal sports trainer (Michael Thomas) who is only  interested in exercising his ego, coming across as rather a sad figure to whose draconian authority the girls soon subvert with a mixture of tolerance and collective, covert mockery.  Nestling in its placid and orderly Alpine setting, the ‘Clinic’ is a perfectly functioning model of authority ruled over here by dysfunctional role models. Scratch the surface and latent rebellion lurks in every corner and corridor, pointing at some very real concerns beyond. MT


Paradise: Faith (2012) *****

Director/Script: Ulrich Seidl

Script: Veronika Franz

Cast: Maria Hoffstatter, Nabil Saleh, Natalya Baranova, Rene Rupnik

113min   Austrian     Drama             German with English subtitles

Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl returns to Austria for the second part of the Paradise trilogy, Paradise: Faith.  In Paradise: Love we met voluptuous, blonde divorcée, Teresa. Here, the mood is more sombre as we meet her less attractive sister, hospital worker Anna Maria (Maria Hoffstatter), who is taking her holiday ‘at home’ in her gloomy apartment block.

This time the focus is on religion and Seidl’s stark and stylised interiors mirror Anna Maria’s empty unhappiness with her life.  Hoffstatter gives a committed performance as an unlikeable and fastidious woman who clings to routine, old-fashioned clothes and a Wagneresque hairdo. As the narrative unfolds, she also emerges as the worst kind of religious bigot.

Ritual is a strong motif in this segment. Ostensibily a devout Catholic, Anna Maria’s days are spent observing meticulous routine: singing hymns and self-flagellating in front of a picture of Jesus. In neighbourhood forays as a door to door ‘Christian’ salesman, she comes across as insensitive and overbearing; projecting herself onto her victims, and  coming to blows with a disenchanted Russian immigré (Natalya Baranova) and forcing a kindly but arthritic man (Rene Rupnik) to pray on his knees in a droll vignette that considerably lightens the tone injecting some much-needed dark humour.

The appearance of her crippled Muslim husband Nabil (Saleh), blows her cover and sheds a new light on her piety.  A healthy physical relationship was obviously the focus of their marriage.  His paralysis has exposed their incompatibility as a couple and caused Maria to ‘re-discover’ her faith, sublimating her sexual frustration into hero worship of Jesus.  Saleh is quietly powerful as a reasonable man who rapidly morphs into a radical, raving mysogynist once rejected sexually. Anna Maria is actively disgusted by him and his religious beliefs and this only goes to heighten her own fervour, making his Islamic views appear strident and as they tussle with religious paraphernalia in the flat, the situation goes from bad to worse.

Occasionally spiked by provocative humour, Paradise: Faith is an uncomfortable film to watch, both from a dour visual perspective and a religious and moral viewpoint.  There are echoes of Kieslowski and Haneke’s deep misanthropy piqued with wicked comedy. An observational style leaves us space to contemplate the deep and fertile complexity of the issues involved and draw our own conclusions in our own time.

As in the other Paradise segments (Love, Faith and Hope), there is a strong atmosphere of subversion at play and Anna Maria’s unhappiness with her marriage and sexual frustration have found a focus on the image of Jesus, as Melanie’s burgeoning sexuality reaches out to the strong male figure of the doctor in Paradise: Hope. As Anna Maria kisses and masturbates with a miniature statue of Jesus, she idolises his physical ‘beauty’ in a deeply disturbing episode that has shades of Vanessa Redgrave’s performance in The Devils (1971) but cleverly steers clear of titillation.










Like it or not, Ulrich Seidl’s non-judgemental viewpoint tweaks a raw nerve in his depiction of inescapable and inevitable truths that is always tempered with a lightness of touch and knowing humour. A well-pitched and timely comment on the multicultural debate, it also showing how the disenfranchised and disenchanted can subvert their feeling into religious fanaticism, using religious fundamentalism of any persuasion as a badge of honour to hide more covert psychological issues. Paradise: Faith is possibly the most harrowing of the trilogy but also the most apposite in terms of contemporary multiculturalism. Highly recommended. MT


Paradise: Love (2012) ****

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Director/Writer: Ulrich Seidl, Veronika Franz

Cast: Margarethe Tiesel, Peter Kazungu, Inge Maux

120min   Austria       Drama        German with English subtitles

With wicked humour and a sinister twist, Ulrich Seidl and his long-time collaborator, Veronika Franz, have tapped into a raw nerve of the female psyche with three interlocking stories based on Odon von Horvath’s 1932 play ‘Faith, Hope and Charity’.

The “Paradise” trilogy of films eloquently and provocatively probe the trans-generational experiences and differing concerns of a contemporary Austrian family of three women: a young girl, Melanie; her mother, Teresa and aunt Anna Maria. These focus on teenage issues, sex and religion.

The first in the trilogy, Paradise: Love, centres on Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel), a voluptuous but matronly blonde in her forties who has disappeared below the search radar of most men on the local dating scene. But when she heads off to Kenya for a much needed blast of sun, her prospects seem to improve.

In an atmosphere laden with post-colonial overtones, alluring young African men line the sandy beaches pandering to the egos of white female tourists and offering their wares: and we’re not only talking coconuts and local crafts here.

Seidl perfectly captures Teresa’s glee and naivety here. Like a child in a sweet-shop, she is flattered by attention and ‘strings free’ sex. Later in the hotel bar, her new friend (Inge Maux) confides the transactional nature of these encounters. Far from innocent, they do offer rich rewards: sex with the young and toned and a welcome change from the tired and baggage-laden men back home. Her new friend has already found a virile biker to sleep with and can hardly believe her luck.

Tiesel tackles the role with aplomb, managing to come across as flirtatious but in control to the first guy she meets, pursuing the usual line of fake conversation laden with intent.  Attempting to ‘teach’ him how to kiss her she then becomes truculent and tearful when he doesn’t play the game.  Wising up, she begins to assert her superiority in a finely-turned turn that combines vulnerability with wilfulness and a certain amount of playful guile. As her skin turns golden, her methods become more sophisticated in the game of looking for love in all the wrong places. Cinematographers Ed Lachman and Wolfgang Thaler’s seductive-looking beach scenes contrast with the hard-edged reality of poverty and humiliation where women turn the hunter as much as they do the prey.

Eric Cantat’s Going South already dealt with the subject of female sex tourism in his acclaimed feature back in 2005, so does Ulrich Seidl bring anything new to the story of passport hunters and white, middle aged cougars, nearly ten years later? The answer lies in his observational approach to the subject matter, allowing us to form our own opinion of the state of play, and in the well-drawn characters. He also takes the narrative forward showing how power can lead to degradation in a role reversal that is both intriguing and novel and adds considerable depth to the male/female dynamic taking it into the realms of anthropology.  Subtle dialogue captures the intricacies of the female mind in this authentic story that’s entertaining and insightful particularly for male audiences. MT



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