21 July, 2009

Ulrich Seidl At New York's Anthology Film Archives

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Not nearly as well known as his countryman Michael Haneke, the Austrian film director Ulrich Seidl has his own individual signature as a chronicler of human truth. His films are, in turns, disturbing and paradoxical, difficult and dispassionate and not easy to classify. Mixing documentary realism with a kind of poetic neo-realism, the director mainly uses non-professional actors to give his film essays an essential core of truth.

Seidl will receive his first ever retrospective in the United States with a program this week at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City, a funky cinematheque with a decidedly funky "downtown" vibe. The series includes highlights from the director's career and culminates with a weeklong run of IMPORT/EXPORT, Seidl's most recent film that screened at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

Program highlights include the documentaries ANIMAL LOVE, LOSSES ARE TO BE EXPECTED and MODELS, gritty non-fiction observations that established Seidl's reputation as an unsentimental observer of human oddity and misery. In his first fiction film DOG DAYS, the director takes these interests further, turning ordinary existence into a comic nightmare, often raising ethical questions of conduct and acceptance. A love-it-or-hate-it film for critics and audiences, it raises uncomfortable questions about the filmmaker's motivations. Is he motivated by compassion or contempt? Does it ridicule the eccentricities of the non-professional actors or does it indict the audience for its prurient interest in these marginal types. The answers aren't easy, but the debate is lively.
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