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Review: Dog Days

Austrian provocateur Ulrich Seidl gives the suburbs of his native Vienna a merciless swat in Dog Days.

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Dog Days
Photo: Leisure Time Features

Austrian provocateur Ulrich Seidl gives the suburbs of his native Vienna a merciless swat in Dog Days, his first narrative feature after a series of documentaries that have rubbed bleak, humorless portraits of German malaise in their audience’s noses. Because he provides no cultural insight as to why his desperate citizens suffer the way they do, the end result here is a two-hour torture mechanism. Those without the stomach for this kind of shock cinema should check out sooner rather than later. The ensemble cast of non-professionals, mostly overweight, are seen through Seidl’s camera as little more than a smorgasbord of grotesqueries. When not gawking at his housekeeper as she undresses for him, an elderly tenement landlord is seen removing his dentures and later obsessively returning prepackaged food to a store because its weight is not quite precise. These are sure signs that Seidl’s contempt for his characters runs deep, and the entire tone of the film is not unlike that of Kathy Bates’s infamous nude scene from Alexander Payne’s similarly odious About Schmidt. The voyeurs in the film respond with predictable repulsion and sarcasm to Seidl’s lower middle-class cartoons. Dog Days leaves a nasty aftertaste, perhaps because it provides so little insight into the random cruelties of the world. Harmony Korine has shown greater sympathy for all his subjects in both Gummo and julien donkey-boy than Seidl can ever muster here. Even when a possibly mentally impaired hitchhiker is getting raped, or a hustler is forced at gunpoint to sing the Austrian national anthem with a candle shoved up his ass, Seidl frames the action as a lurid joke then photographs his actors weeping crocodile tears. For some reason, international critics and duped festival programmers have swallowed this geek show as a one-of-a-kind experience without comprehending the differences between Seidl and fellow observers of the grotesque Korine and Werner Herzog. The infantile Dog Days offers a one-sided view of an underprivileged world, not because it wallows in the horrors of this cultural cesspool as much as it throws the water back in its characters’ faces. In their desire to keep abreast of the cutting edge, critics and filmmakers seem to be cutting themselves off from humanity. Avoid Dog Days and instead check out a far more eloquent portrait of the oppressed: bad boy director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s humanist statement Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.

Cast: Franziska Weiss, Claudia Martini, Victor Rathbone, Georg Friedrich, Alfred Mrva, Erich Finsches, Maria Hofstätter Director: Ulrich Seidl Screenwriter: Veronika Franz, Ulrich Seidl Distributor: Leisure Time Features Running Time: 121 min Rating: NR Year: 2001 Buy: Video

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