Mar 3, 2014
The first film I ever saw directed by Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl (Import/Export, Paradise trilogy) was Hundstage (2001) aka Dog Days and as far as I am concerned, it is the filmmaker's greatest and most ‘touching’ work to date. Quite ironically, like Harmony Korine’s Gummo (1997), I first saw Dog Days after renting it at Blockbuster of all places and was quite shocked that a subtitle-allergic family-oriented mainstream rental store would carry such a graphic anti-fantasy work. I also recall watching Dog Days for the first time and having my then-girlfriend’s redneck/Melungeon family members randomly walk in and laugh at how the characters in the film were so “white trash.” Indeed, it certainly says something when a group of uncultured, sub-literate American yokels goes so far as describing Austrians—their innate racial and cultural superiors—as ‘white trash,’ but of course that is one of the greatest appeals of a Ulrich Seidl film where the Aryan rabble rises to the top for all the world to see like strangely beauteous yet nonetheless sickening celluloid pond scum. Undoubtedly, in his obsession for unhinged realism, Seidl is certainly the Viennese equivalent to heeb hipster Harmony Korine, but unlike the Judaic jokester, who gets a real kick out of exploiting the most unprivileged of goys, the Austrian auteur approaches his subjects from a more ‘empathetic’ insider’s perspective that attempts to understand the seemingly inexplicable. Like Short Cuts (1993) directed by Robert Altman, except with real Teutonic testicular fortitude and minus the somewhat contrived literary qualities, Dog Days depicts an eclectic collection of eccentric characters who sometimes randomly cross paths during the hottest days of the summer. Although the director’s previous work Models (1999) was technically a ‘fictional’ film, Dog Days was Seidl’s first serious attempt at creating a semi-mainstream feature, or as the auteur stated of the work in his official statement: “DOG DAYS marks an end as well as a beginning in my work. Dog Days is a so-called real feature film with a real script, real stories and real actors. And still, a lot is different. There was a script, but no written dialogue; there were actors, but many more non-actors; and my way of working was documentary.” A strangely delightfully and shockingly humorous putrid portrait of Viennese domestic grotesquery in the Americanized post-Hitlerite age, Dog Days is a vehemently visceral work that engulfs you in the same dark suburban environment that sired incestuous rapist maniac Josef Fritzl. Taking its title from the most scorching time of summer (July 24-August 23, with the name ‘Dog Days’ deriving from Canicula/Orion's Dog, the constellation most present in the sky at this time), Dog Days also acts as a nice Schluchtenscheisser cultural counterpoint to Spike Lee’s race-hustling summer scorcher Do the Right Thing (1989), albeit minus the outmoded jungle music and senseless ‘slave rebellion’ message.
An Austrian Aryan wigger with the ridiculous cringe-worthy name Mario (René Wanko) is hanging out at a hip rave club and is royally pissed like a drag queen on the rag when he jealously witnesses a couple of young fellow Aryan men eyeing up his blonde Barbie girlfriend Klaudia (Franziska Weiß) dancing on a stage, so he makes a scene and leaves abruptly, smacking some strangers and his bitch before leaving rather abruptly in a fit of rage. The next day, an old widowed man who seems to suffer from OCD named Mr. Walter (Erich Finsches), who lives with his large guard dog and truly slavish and equally rotund and elderly housekeeper (who gives him rather repulsive stripteases, one of which he commends her by hilariously stating, “Well done, just like in the orient.”) meticulously trims his hedges and does other pointless yard work to ostensibly fill the bottomless void that is his post-marriage non-life. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, a discernibly homely 30-something-year-old hitchhiker named Anna (Maria Hofstätter) with Asperger syndrome (notably, the pediatrician who the mental disorder was named after, Hans Asperger, was Austrian) verbally bombards people in their cars and proceeds to read off ‘top ten’ lists (i.e. ten most common deaths, ten best plasma TV models, etc.) and unwittingly insult her victims about their weight and dubious sexual habits. Not faraway, a divorced wife (Claudia Martini) is engaged in a rather repulsive group orgy with other rather repulsive 40+-year-old individuals and after concluding her session of group carnal knowledge, she heads to the roadside memorial site of her dead child, where she runs into her ex-husband Theodorakis (Victor Rathbone), who does not even acknowledge her presence. In fact, Theodorakis and his ex-wife still live in the same house together where they pretend the other does not exist. Desperate for work, an alarm system man named Hruby (Alfred Mrva) tries in vain to help discover who is responsible for scratching the fancy cars of a group of bitchy bourgeois folks who threaten his employment if he does not solve who is responsible for the petty crimes. Meanwhile, a used-up post-menopausal teacher (Christine Jirku), who is a Egon Schiele fan as demonstrated by her framed reproduction paintings on the wall, takes off her panties and bends over to wait for her sorry slob of a lapsed hippie lover Wicherl (played be real-life pornographer/sex club owner Victor Hennemann), but when he arrives, he shows up with his young ironically named younger friend ‘Lucky’ (Georg Friedrich) and proceeds to force her to get drunk and smacks her around for her lack of enthusiasm. Wicherl demands his girlfriend to do the following, “Sing, you dumb idiot. Come on, let’s have a little more feeling, asshole. Like the Negro bitches…with baskets on their heads…of bananas, oranges, pineapples…La Cucaracha…,” but she fails to do it to his liking, so he smacks her around some more and his friend Lucky proceeds to pour a bottle of beer over her less than pretty little head. In the end, Mario tells his girlfriend Klaudia she is a slut and smacks her around a bit, alarm system man Hruby solves his car-vandalizer problem by taking advantage of aspy-Fräulein hitchhiker Anna and delivering her to his sadistic customers (who beat and rape her for ostensibly scratching their automobiles), Lucky pulls a gun on Wicherl and humiliates him (forcing him to put a lit candle in his rectum and sing the Austrian national anthem at gunpoint) to avenge the teacher’s honor (but she absurdly apologizes to Wicherl in the end and they make up), and someone poisons old, widowed Walter's dog. Quite fittingly, Dog Days closes with Mr. Walter—a man who threatens to call the cops on his neighbors for talking outside and whose typical highlight of the day is verbally reaming defensive grocery store clerks—stating, “People are so cruel.”
In one particularly heartwarming scene of Dog Days where Nordic white Negro ‘Lucky’ forces his friend Wicherl to sing the Austrian national anthem, the viewer pays witness to auteur Ulrich Seidl’s wonderfully wicked apocalyptic sense of humor while seeing a Aryan untermensch with a bulging beer gut sing “Native home of many great sons…A people with a gift for beauty” at gunpoint in a scene that seems more at home in a Tennessee trailer park or Detroit crackhouse than in the capital of Austria. As far as beauty is concerned, Dog Days makes the physically warped yet wanton nude portraits of Egon Schiele seem like Arno Breker statues by comparison and the fact the film takes an innately realist approach only makes it seem all the more uniquely unhinged in its superlatively scathing (anti)humanism. While contemporary Austria is not exactly known for the most uplifting films, Dog Days takes things to a new level because, unlike the too-cool-for-school nihilism of Franz Novotny (Die Ausgesperren aka The Excluded, Exit… nur keine Panik) and pedantic arthouse shockers of Michael Haneke (Funny Games, The White Ribbon), Seidl is only interested in the hard and ugly truth and not mere masturbatory intellectual abstractions, hence the director’s undying affinity for the documentary format and aesthetic. Indeed, not unlike a good many Germanic/European artists nowadays, one gets the sense that Seidl hates his people while watching Dog Days and the fact he contributed a segment to the far-left omnibus doc State of the Nation: Austria in Six Chapters (2002) only goes to show this, yet there is also a certain understanding and insight into his people in the work that, unlike Korine with Gummo, the filmmaker also accepts the fact he is a member of this race that he so gleefully aesthetically besmirches. Featuring weak women that are attracted to physically and emotionally brutal bullies, a middle-class that is so madly materialistic that they go so far as raping and beating mentally ill women as revenge for their precious property being tarnished, an upper-middleclass couple so unwaveringly cold that they live in the same house for assumed monetary reasons yet do not even recognize one another and think it is ok to have other sexual partners out in the open under the same roof, young men that are so insecure that they dress like they are black and beat up their girlfriends due to the totally unwarranted belief that they are cheating on them, educated post-menopausal women that are so lonely that they are willing to take endless abuse for lard asses, and an old man with a complete and utter lack of empathy for anything aside from his beastly guard dog, Dog Days ultimately portrays a patently perturbed people suffering from an emotional glacial period that no summer sun nor even nuclear apocalypse will melt.
Dog Days is the sort of film that Hollywood pseudo-arthouse works like American Beauty (1999) directed by Sam Mendes and The Weather Man (2005) directed by Gore Verbinski wish they were, but which lack the subtle naturalistic nuances, visceral aesthetic integrity, and unwaveringly unflattering honesty to transcend the phony dream factory that is the fanciful culture-distorting and emotion-contriving empty shell of Tinseltown. Rather ironically, while a distinctly Viennese regional work, Dog Days is almost just as much an indictment of America and its non-kultur as it is an assault on Uncle Adolf’s Fatherland. Indeed, featuring a collection of mostly overweight, cheap, materialistic, and security-obsessed wack-jobs in a city with a McDonalds on every corner, Dog Days depicts a culturally degraded nation that has traded in their long and rich kultur for true ‘creature comforts’ that come with being a spiritually colonized people. Although Josef Fritzl tried to blame his insidious behavior on his ‘nazi upbringing,’ his actions more so demonstrate the sort of obscenely arrogant, soulless, self-absorbed do-whatever-the-hell-I-want attitude that has become synonymous with being American. And while Dog Days makes Austria seem like a country with a Prader–Willi syndrome and Asperger epidemic, in reality America is easily the fattest and most anti-depressant prescribed nation in the world, but of course you would not know that from watching Hollywood films. I know that Seidl would probably like to blame Austria’s problems on the imaginary thing some call ‘everyday fascism,’ but whether the director wants to admit it or not, Dog Days ultimately portrays a spoiled and emotionally sour people who thrive on the perennial void that is materialism and have no sense of identity nor national culture and who might as well be German-speaking Americans. Featuring the apocalyptic cynicism of Cioran, the sweetly sardonic misanthropy of Paul Morrissey, the anti-bourgeois absurdity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the avant-garde Austrian angst of Peter Handke, and the scathing Germanic ‘social realism’ of John Cook and Uwe Schrader, Dog Days demonstrates with its mostly minimalistic yet visually keen scenarios and static yet nonetheless strangely striking tableaux that Austrian society has gone to the dogs and the dogs have become rabid. That being said, I can only guess what Ulrich Seidl thinks should be done to rabid dogs.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:50 PM
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