A Perverted Guide to the Basement

in 24th Message to Man International Film Festival Saint Petersburg

by Mike Naafs

Welcome to Mankind! Every time Man vs Game on gaming site Twitch.tv receives a new subscriber to its live streaming channel the Man yells this into the camera of his own set-up somewhere in a basement in Montana. Daily, he is followed by at least 5,000 people who watch him play various games in his so-called Man Cave. “Welcome to mankind” is also what Ulrich Seidl seems to be shouting with every film he makes, showing us the nasty, dark and perverted sides of human beings, bringing to light — in contrast to Man vs Game, which does it voluntarily and consciously — what otherwise would remain unseen. It is strange when you think about it that it took him so long to make a film about the basement, that subconscious room where people play out their most bizarre fantasies and which is, through newspaper articles of the last years, so intrinsically connected to Austria and thus to Seidl. But now In the Basement (Im Keller) has arrived, and it is vintage Seidl. For people who had already developed a great disgust for the man’s work it is ideal ammunition to take him down, and for admirers, by contrast, it is a trip down memory lane.

Straight at the opening sequence — which is reminiscent of the opening of Import/Export with the moped that does not start — we are submerged in the man cave, where a man with poorly dyed hair is singing opera in a shooting range. In the style that has become so uniquely his, with tableux vivants and blank people staring into the camera while making sure that every detail of the environment is visible, Seidl portrays at least a dozen people in their basements with their hobbies, their preoccupations, and their fantasies. And this being Seidl, you get what you expect. It is as if he — after his more or less human Paradise trilogy — wanted to go back underground to films like Dog Days (Hundstage) and Animal Love (Tierische liebe). So of course there are a lot of sexual perversities in the basement, of course there are guns, of course there are very scary-looking dolls in boxes and of course there are politically incorrect images. Plenty of them.

This is a freak show after all, traveling around cinemas near you. Come and watch! Because seeing is believing and you have to hand it to him that Seidl does find the most crazy ones. Where else would you find a retired politician, drinking with his friends, thinking about the blessings of earlier times, surrounded by Nazi memorabilia and a gigantic portrait of that well-known Austrian politician Adolf Hitler? Where else could you see a man dressed in knickerbockers hitting a woman on the buttocks with a beach ball set bought at Toys R Us? And who ever knew there was a hunter’s wife who could cut the best schnitzels from learning about anatomy through the corpses of African wildlife her husband has shot?

Nowhere but in Seidl’s circus side show. Entertainment in overdrive, at your disposal. Welcome to mankind. Sure: Vinegar viewers with high moral standards would say that it is sensationalism of the worst kind, voyeurism to the max, exploitation of mentally unstable people even, but then they would be missing the point, and essentially would be doing what Seidl never does: Judging people.

The rest can just sit back and enjoy human beings.

Edited by Carmen Gray