by Ulrich Seidl
Out of competition at the 73rd Venice Film Festival, Safari, the latest work by the famous and controversial Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, shocked audiences and critics, and raised a lot of controversy about what he wanted to show in such a brutal and explicit way.
Lido di Venezia, summer 2016. Out of competition at the 73rd Venice Film Festival is presented Safari, the latest work by the famous and controversial Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, who is at home on the Lido (just think that only in 2012 he competed for the prestigious Golden Lion with Paradise: Faith), where – more extreme than ever – he shocked audiences and critics, raising a lot of controversy about what he wanted to show in such a brutal and explicit way.
A series of images, portraits of weird characters who share a great passion: hunting. Their pride in killing rare specimens. Their trophies. And, last but not least, their cruel hunting trips. All this is shown us in this documentary by Seidl, who, as usual in his filmography, shoots at zero against Austrian society in particular and, more generally, against today’s society, within which – just as the exponents of the Social Theatre (Thomas Bernhardt, Elfriede Jelinek and Peter Turrini) stated – there is a dangerous latent fascism, present in the simplest and most banal everyday life of every “model” citizen. A theme dear to many other exponents of the Seventh Art. A theme that is also dear – if we want to focus our attention exclusively on contemporary cinema – to the acclaimed and award-winning Michael Haneke. And, of course, each of them has been able to tell about society in their own way: through irony, through drama or even by “playing” with the audience with visual and auditory suggestions. Undoubtedly, Seidl is – compared to these authors – the most extreme of them all.
His direction – his trademark – is masterful and impeccable, with numerous fixed camera shots of posing characters, static and proud of their lives and their way of being. They are so plastered that they even seem fake. The resulting portraits are grotesque pictures of what we are today – forgetful of what happened in past decades. In Safari, in particular, the brutality of the human being is portrayed by showing rich bourgeois hunting enthusiasts. And the message comes through. Loud and clear. The first criticism that could be directed against Safari, however, is this: a medium-length film would have sufficed to say what it is trying to say, considering that Seidl often seems to want to reiterate concepts that have already been widely developed, even at the risk of seeming repetitive and, at times, redundant. But, as we know, the director’s watchful eye leaves nothing to chance. On the contrary, he calibrates every shot and every single scene in an almost scientific, even maniacal way. Nothing, consequently, is casual. Nothing (at least according to the film director) is gratuitous. Not even the most disturbing moment of the documentary, in which the camera focuses mercilessly on the dead animals being skinned in the slaughterhouses, with close-ups of their entrails. We all agree: in order to get a particular message across, you often have to ‘get your hands dirty’. And yet it has to be acknowledged that in this work, as never before, Seidl has deliberately overdone it with a good dose of self-referentiality.
In this respect, the scene in which a giraffe is shown dying after having been knocked out – the most violent scene ever shown in a film by the Austrian director – symbolises the brutality of the human being, but is definitely extreme and denotes an authorial approach that is not always clear and honest. And Seidl’s attitude simply makes a good work lose many points. What a pity. Who knows what the late André Bazin would have said on seeing such a brutal and explicit representation of death. This, unfortunately, we can never know for sure. We can only (not too) vaguely imagine it.
Original title: Auf Safari
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Country/year: Austria, Denmark, Germany / 2016
Running time: 90′
Cast: Manuel Eichinger, Gerald Eichinger, Marita Neemann, Markolf Schmidt, Eric Mueller
Screenplay: Ulrich Seidl, Veronika Franz
Cinematography: Ulrich Seidl, Wolfgang Thaler, Jerzy Palacz
Produced by: Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion GmbH