Pee in Tomp 9
Werner Herzog likened ULRICH SEIDL’s filmmaking to looking into hell. Seidl explains why.
Words: Torn Dawson
he (ierman director Werner Herzog said of
l'lrich Seidl‘s documentary Aiiiiiiri/ Love.
which examined bizarre relationships between owners and their pets: ‘I have never looked so directly into hell in the cinema.‘ It‘s an appropriate description for Seidl‘s latest award-winning feature Dog Days. an unflinching portrait of despair. loneliness and alienation in the Viennese suburbs.
Seidl. a quietly-spoken 50-year-old Austrian talks via his translator of his surprise that such a dark work has become ‘a great success in Austria‘. He says: ‘lt‘s been the most seen domestic film there in the last year. Opinions are very divided. but because it‘s controversial. people are going to see it. It‘s a talking point.‘
Seidl doesn't rely on a conventional screenplay and professional actors: instead he makes films about the people. situations and environments that he observes in everyday life. l’or Dog Days he collected over several years a number of stories. which unfold over a stiflingly hot weekend. “The western world looks more and more like the suburbs in Dog Days.‘ he notes. "l‘hey’re completely anonymous. they’re a residential area with no history. liach house is interchangeable with the next. and the internal decoration of the houses is also impersonal. So while the film is set in Austria. it could be in any other western countryf
During the actual shoot. Seidl remained uncertain as to how the different narrative segments would interlock. Having shot ()0 hours of material. he spent a
26 THE LIST '3' .‘3-2-t. -, ’1’ '. 1/
A teacher’s love is played by a porn publisher Seidl whom Scitll discovered in a discovered in a swinger’s club
Deeply pessimistic vision of society
whole year ‘finding’ the film in the editing room. ‘I don‘t know anybody that works like I do.’ he says. '1 shot the stories in chronological order. which is more expensive. And it was difficult to edit the film. The first rough cut was three hours -— l was worried that reducing it by one hour would make it much more superficial.’
I suggest to Seidl that Dog Days. with its emphasis on emotional cruelty and suffering. represented a deeply pessimistic vision of society. ‘I don't really
care whether or not the film is seen as pessimistic or
optimistic.‘ he replies. 'I would add. though. that almost all the characters are based on real people that I knew. The stories are fictional. btit the people are real. They are in their own prisons and they are looking for a way to escape. In the western world humans are becoming more and more lonely and isolated. Paradoxically. we've never communicated as much as we are doing today. yet relations between humans get further and further apart.‘
()ne of the crucial ways in which Seidl blurs the boundaries between fiction and documentary is the way he uses mainly non-professional actors. The character of an alarm systems salesman is played by Alfred .\lrva. a real-life home security specialist whom Seidl simply found via the Yellow Pages. A teacher‘s love. \N'ickerl. is played by porn publisher Victor Henneman.
‘1 never give the actors a script.‘ says Seidl. ‘lt‘s a longer process of trying to give them an idea of the figure I want them to portray. I‘m inspired by the way they live and what they’re like. I give them a lot of freedom to improvise.’
But isn't it difficult to push untrained actors to the levels of intensity that Seidl demands‘.’ chneman surely couldn‘t have relished the scene in which he is tortured at gun-point he has a lit candle inserted tip his backside. 'Yes he was reluctant to play the role of the victim. of somebody who was humiliated] admits Seidl. "l'he only reason he did it was he’d given me his word of honour as a pimp. He didn‘t even accept any money.‘
.\'ow. that‘s suffering for art.
Dog Days plays GFT, Glasgow and Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 27 Sep. See review, page 28.
ﬁlm©list.co.uk Rough cuts
Lights, camera, action . . .
KEN LOACH WILL INTRODUCE his Spanish Civil War film Land and Freedom at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Monday 30 September. Loach's new film. Sweet Sixteen. will be premiered in Oreenock. where it was shot. on Tuesday 1 October. Unfortunately. that's not a public event. However. Sweet Sixteen screenwriter Paul Laveitv and the film's star Maitin Compston \'-/lll be at the Cameo. Edinburgh on Wednesday 2 October to talk about the film. See ticket givaway. film index. and feature next issue.
Martin Compston’s Sweet Sixteen
TOM CONTI WILL BE IN conversation at the GFT on Sunday 22 September as part of the McEwan’s Scottish People’s Film Festival. Film extracts will be shown, highlighting the career of the Paisley-born actor. Films being premiered at the Festival, which runs over the 19-22 September weekend at UGC cinemas in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, include: My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Super Troopers, Road to Perdition, Lilo and Stich and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
THE LIST AND THE GF‘T ARE running a preview screening lexcluswely for students) on Monday 23 September of the serial killer thriller My Little Eye wrth director Marc Evans attending. See otter, film index . and interview with Evans next issue. INDEPENDENT FILMMAKING outfit Raindance brings its film courses to Glasgow’s RSAMD from Saturday 28 September, when you’ll be able to learn about everything from low-to- no budget filmmaking to directing for the big screen. For further info go to www.raindance.co.uk
FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO know everything about Bollywood to Bangla cinema. the national Asian Cinema showcase lmagineASlA gets into full swing in Scotland with screenings. guests and masterclasses throughOut September at the GET and Filmhouse. Edinburgh.