Dog Days (2001) dir. Ulrich Seidl
Starring: Maria Hofstätter, Erich Finsches, Gerti Lehner, Claudia Martini, Viktor Hennemann
By Alan Bacchus
In 2001 renowned Austrian documentarian Ulrich Seidl made his dramatic feature debut with his provocative surrealist satire, "Dog Days". There have been many films satirizing the mind-numbing decay of suburban living, but with "Dog Days" Seidl skewers the lifestyle deeper and more sadistically than anyone before or after him.
Around a quaint Austrian township, so non-distinct it could be any Ontario suburb, or California, or Texas or wherever, lives a group of peculiar citizens whom we observe going about their days with the usual routine.
The film opens on a crazy club-goer, Mario, abusing a group of voyeurs who gawk at his dancer-girlfriend in a German dance club. In the ride home the obsessed maniac physically and mentally abuses her in the car before throwing her out of the car on the side of the road. There is abuse like this in every corner of this seemingly mundate and overly average suburban enclave.
There's the curmudgeon old widower when he's not complaining about the inaccurate weight of his packaged dog food at the grocery store he, torments his maid by treating her like his wife.
There's the mentally challenged young girl who wonders parking lot shopping malls and grocery stores looking for car rides - encounters which start out like congenial neighbourly favours which turn into obsessively annoying verbal abuse by the girl.
One of most surreal relationships is a middle-aged woman whom we first see having sex in a brothel, then routinely showering, getting dressed and coming home to her emotionally distant former husband. Despite being divorced she continues to live with him, often smugly tormenting with him other sexual encounters in front of him.
There's a door-to-door security salesman pitches his wares to the frustrated householders on the block. When he succombs to the pestering by the mentally challenged girl, he'll use her to exact sadistic revenge as reparations for all the abuse he's taken in his pathetic job.
It's also an intensely hot day in the picture. Seidl has his characters walking around in lingerie or bathing suits, randomly stipping off their clothing exposing their unflattering bodies. At one point one of the women takes off her panties and trims her pubic hair. This becomes one of the most peculiar scenes when the elderly callgirl and her two drunk clients argue about 'shitting in their living room'. It then devolves into a frightening scene that pushes the boundries of cinematic abuse comparable to the home invasion scene in "A Clockwork Orange".
This mix of absurd humour and genuinely intense emotional realism keeps us on edge. We never know what to expect and while it may seem like a random series of events and encounters for our characters, it's all in aid of Seidl's disturbing commentary on the false pretentious utopia this lifestyle presents.
At 121mins, its probably 30mins too long, but there's something thrilling in it's audacity, reminding us of the best of the Dogme era when those crazy Danish filmmakers replaced the polish of their films for the honesty of raw storytelling and an often sick self-deprecicating sense of humour.