Stepping away from filming documentary subjects, Austrian director Ulrich Seidl’s Dog Days is a soporific and contemptible debut feature film.
Set in an unnamed Vienna suburb during the hottest weekend of the year, this Venice Film Festival prize-winning feature inconsolably depicts the banality of bourgeois living. With little to no exposition, Seidl presents a series of vignettes, all tied together by their shallow despair and deadly sins parables. One sexually starved middle-aged woman who passively harbors a sadistic, enraged boyfriend and his equally abusive friend; another submissive female working as a stripper who’s paranoid, envious husband beats up anyone looking at her the wrong way; a divorced couple miserably living under the same roof; a slothful widow who forces his cleaner to dress up in his dead wife’s clothing and gratify his sexual needs; and last, but not least, an annoying and mentally-unstable female hitchhiker who is turned into a sexually punished scapegoat for an outbreak of vandalism cases. Misogynistic and degradingly lewd throughout the entire two hours, these mainly nameless figures are pawn’s in Seidl’s sadistic game of chess. Moving around this claustrophobic, manufactured setting with no chance to escape.
What’s most depressing and pathetic about Dog Days is that it unashamedly wears it’s influences right on it’s sleeve. Relishing in audience provocation like Austria’s filmmaking enfant terrible Michael Haneke and debunking prissy suburban stereotypes in a comedic light like Todd Solondz. Seidl’s film feels so laboured and mimetic that any space for an undermining social message is burned.
Aside from a few oxymoronically appealing still photography shots of the seedy setting from cinematographer Wolfgang Thaler, Dog Days is stylistically void, intellectually vapid, narratively coarse, and exploitative of its actors in the worst possible way (there’s various sequences including real penetrative sex, did I forget to mention that?). It is nothing more than ugly people leading ugly lives and doing ugly things to each other. If in the right hands, it could be material for a very interesting film, but this is not that film, and this is not that director.
1) Dog Days’ casting director is none other than Austrian rising star/mini-Haneke Markus Schleinzer. Do check out his similarly incendiary drama Michael released earlier this year.
2) If this written review doesn’t meet the cut of your jib, then be sure to check out the new edition of the downloadable audio podcast, with extra special guest Mads Kjeldgaard. It’ll be on Soundcloud this time tomorrow (July 31st).