After his recent foray into feature film territory with his Paradise trilogy, Seidl is back on home turf with this mischievous documentary exposing the dark underbelly of Austrian basements. It’s in Seidl’s familiarly wry and observational style as laundrywomen pose for the camera while washing machines churn disinterestedly – but it’s also startlingly provocative, as Im Keller dragnets myriad underground goings-on. Apart from glimpses of miniature railway enthusiasts, radio fanatics and home-bar owners, there’s also a seamier side to cellar life, as Seidl observes and interviews masochists, dominatrixes, cupboard-mothers nursing plastic dolls and old-schoolers nostalgic for the Third Reich. Opening with a long sequence of a python in a terrarium gearing up to devour its freshly served guinea pig lunch, Im Keller explores these fantasy spaces below ground – periodically violent, but always in thrall to man’s most primitive passions. And as men and women (but mainly men) live out the private urges they prefer to hide below stairs, Seidl exposes Austria’s darker side – preoccupied with sex, immigration and power. It’s no doubt a portrait of just one stratum of society, skewed and sordid. But scratching to get under the skin of Austrian suburbia, it’s a deliciously grotesque portrait all the same.
Im Keller | Directed by Ulrich Seidl (Austria 2014) documentary. Starts December 4
Originally published in issue #133, December 2014.