Thursday, 16 October 2014

LFF REVIEW - IN THE BASEMENT (ULRICH SEIDL)


The people in Ulrich Seidl's films inhabit their own sealed space - Seidl's space, the landlocked nation of Austria. And, within his static interior shots, framed by doorways and corridors, their insularity is heightened, the bizarre and bewildering environments of their minds entirely conceivable in such a closed, closeted, sterile space. Whether In the Basement, which bears extraordinary resemblance to Seidl's fictional films both in aesthetic and in character, represents a neat concentration of his unique directorial style, or appraises those films as masterpieces of skewed realism in demonstrating just how truthful his vision of his homeland is, is unclear in a larger context. But this is Seidl's space, one that invites you to question the boundary between fiction and reality, that depicts genuine occurrences that seem so extreme as to appear fantastical, or staged ones with an intense, unflinching realism. In the Basement is, then, a horror comedy in bracing purity, yet while one might struggle to perceive such a genre product as existing within the frame of documentary filmmaking, here one is. It's his portrait of a nation, set underground, glints of sunlight only occasionally mingling with nasty artificial lights, an unnatural place for humanity to exist. The most satisfying aspect of In the Basement is exploring that invisible boundary, and examining this process in relation to documentary as an art form - if these curious creatures, or perhaps only a few of them, are performing for Seidl's camera, under direction or just out of personal desire, then how can one evaluate the truthfulness of anyone's intentions while stood before a film camera? Seidl's technique, and the purpose driving it, have become unfortunately blatant, the vivid obviousness of In the Basement resembling a conscious attempt to appeal to the masses whose sensitivities have not yet been tested by his work. Nonetheless, the film is funny and fascinating, and as worthy a document of Austrian society as of its Austrian creator.