Director: Constantin Wulff
52min Documentary Switzerland/Austria/Germany
Ulrich Seidl, the never-far-from-controversy Austrian director of Dog Days, Import/Export and the Paradise trilogy, is the subject of this striking portrait that follows him as he shoots his newest documentary project, Im Keller (In the Basement).
For Seidl, basements are places of darkness and fear, where people go to fulfil their deepest desires, while the living space above is only used for show. Opening on a shot of a woman naked inside a cage barely bigger than she is, the natural inclination is to imagine that we’re about to witness something dealing in depravity and degradation. And yet it proves to be not as prurient as you perhaps might have expected, with these spaces used much of the time as a place for (primarily) men to drink and do DIY. That’s not to say there isn’t eye-opening content here, much of it relating to S&M practices although, as Seidl himself says, much of what he shows is harmless stuff, meaning it’s left to the audience to fill in the gaps. Interestingly, given some of the dark events of his country’s recent past, none of this is presented as a singularly Austrian pursuit, nor is the name Fritzl ever mentioned.
The subtitle is A Director at Work, and this is very much what we get; he’s shown as a meticulously hands-on creator, managing every little detail both on In the Basement and on stage, where we join Seidl as he and his actors rehearse for his new play, Böse Buben/Fiese Männer. It’s a largely improvised examination of men’s souls, starkly evoking the likes of Fight Club with its bastions of unchecked masculinity. As extensive as the behind the scenes footage and clips from his earlier films are though, hearing from Seidl himself is the real draw. The candid interviews reveal him as a thoughtful and intelligent man, as well as his process to get to the truth of human nature, to uncover that which is buried. It’s this that ultimately marks out this short but revealing film as a profound insight into why he thinks we should be making art. PG
ZURICH FILM FESTIVAL SEPTEMBER 25 – OCTOBER 5 2014