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by Ulrich Seidl

grade: 7.5

With In the Basement, Ulrich Seidl explores the inner self of the characters he filmed by entering their tidy, impeccable-looking homes, until he reaches their basements. And it is here that each of them finally reveals his or her true nature.

Far away from prying eyes

Contemporary society, a dangerous latent fascism, secrets and people’s most unusual habits have always played a central role in Ulrich Seidl’s filmography. It is so in his documentaries – including his debut film Good News and Safari, his newest work – and it is also so in his fictional films, including the famous Dog Days and the films of the Paradise trilogy. Yet a film that certainly represents the essence of the Viennese director’s filmography is the documentary In the Basement, which was presented out of competition at the 2014 Venice Film Festival – when, in the meantime, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, Seidl’s wife and nephew presented the excellent Goodnight Mommy in the section Orizzonti.

With In the Basement, then, Ulrich Seidl explores the inner self of the characters he filmed by entering their tidy, impeccable-looking homes and finally reaching their basements. And it is here that, finally, each of them reveals his or her true nature.

A man is sitting in front of the cage in which his python lives. A mouse finds itself inside the cage and quietly eats. Silence. The consequences are easy to imagine. And they come suddenly, like a punch to the stomach. So, then, In the Basement begins. A cruel, brutal, shocking incipit, as only Seidl is able to show us. And we immediately realise that, during the screening, we will experience very, very strong emotions. And indeed the documentary – just like every other film by the director – can almost be compared to a rollercoaster ride. An adventure during which we laugh, we are moved, we get angry.

Similarly to his other works, In the Basement also proves to be an ‘angry’ film, a film that makes fun of the characters depicted, but which, depending on the occasion, strongly manages to empathise with them. And if the image of a no-longer-young woman who treats dolls in the basement like children gives us the idea of a lonely person who can no longer fulfil her dreams and tries in every way to create a kind of ideal reality, the camera is much more ruthless in showing us a middle-aged man who collects Nazi uniforms and proudly shows us an oil portrait of Adolf Hitler, “the most beautiful wedding present I have ever received”.

Steady, well thought-out shots, often immobile characters who speak to the camera – right in line with the canons of Seidl’s filmography – reveal in some cases a deep sense of loneliness, in others a deep contempt for what society has become today. A society that is cowardly and hypocritical, that has never learned from what has happened in the past and that makes banal clichés its credo. Reality is shown to us as it is, without filters or censorship, and the director’s camera does not hesitate to ridicule his protagonists. And often words are unnecessary. The images speak for themselves. We laugh and think. And again, we are shocked, we are moved and we laugh again. And, of course, we get enthralled by the perfect images on the screen. In the Basement is a real whirlwind of emotions and never leaves us time to breathe. Just as happens, after all, in every Ulrich Seidl film.

Original title: Im Keller
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 2014
Running time: 81’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Veronika Franz, Ulrich Seidl
Cinematography: Martin Gschlacht
Produced by: ARTE, Coop99 Filmproduktion, Filmfonds Wien, Land Niederösterreich, ORF, Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion GmbH, Österreichisches Filminstitut

Info: the page of In the Basement on iMDb; the page of In the Basement on the website of Ulrich Seidl