by Ulrich Seidl
With a few simple shots and a single sentence repeated over and over again, Ulrich Seidl has fully conveyed the essence of his entire filmography. In Hakuna Matata – part of the collective project Venezia 70 Future Reloaded, realised on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Venice Film Festival – there is no need for anything else.
In a happy world…
Much has been said in recent days about the scandal involving director Ulrich Seidl and his film Sparta, which had its world premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival 2022. Unfortunately, we will have to wait some more time before we can watch this newest work of his. In the meantime, looking back over the extensive filmography of the controversial Viennese filmmaker, let us recall a work that few people know. A short film that was part of a collective project – Venice 70 Future Reloaded – made on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Venice Film Festival. We are talking about Hakuna Matata, in which, in a running time of just one and a half minutes (such were the guidelines that each director involved in the project had to follow), we can clearly recognise certain constants in his filmography.
In taking part in this project, each of the filmmakers was free to choose the topic to be dealt with. Ulrich Seidl – who only a year earlier had presented his Paradise: Faith, awarded the Grand Jury Prize, in competition at the Lido – was making the third chapter of the Paradise trilogy, Paradise: Hope, set in Kenya. Yet, given the locations chosen for the making of Hakuna Matata and given also the recurring sentence in the subsequent film, we note that the short film was made even the year before, on the occasion of the making of the first film in the trilogy, Paradise: Love.
Hakuna Matata, therefore, consists of six simple shots, all perfectly symmetrical and all shot strictly with a static camera. Some coloured men – probably attendants inside a luxury hotel – are standing in front of the camera. After a few seconds they all repeat the sentence “Hakuna Matata” (“everything’s fine, no problem”) almost mechanically and without emphasis. In the following scenes this is repeated. Each of the protagonists – always in the same position – repeats the same sentence. But will everything really be OK? Obviously not. And indeed, even in this short film of his, what Ulrich Seidl wanted to show us is first and foremost the stark contrast between luxury tourist destinations and the conditions of those whose job is to ensure that tourists have the best possible experience in these glamorous locations. Just as the last shot, in which we see two men, this time in silence, intent on cleaning the floor, demonstrates.
Ulrich Seidl attacks here that hypocritical and perbenist society that makes the class gap more and more evident. Just as it was with his documentary Safari, made in 2016 and also premiered – out of competition – at the Venice Film Festival, or even with Good News (1990), just to give a few examples. With a few simple shots and a single sentence repeated over and over again, the director has fully conveyed the essence of his entire filmography. In Hakuna Matata there is no need for anything else. And even music – with which we normally associate the famous sentence from which the film takes its title – has been totally omitted. Reality is shown to us as it is and can sometimes be very, very painful. But it is often the strong contrasts and paradoxes that communicate more than words can.
Original title: Hakuna Matata
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Country/year: Austria / 2013
Running time: 1’
Screenplay: Ulrich Seidl
Cinematography: Wolfgang Thaler, Ed Lachman
Produced by: Ulrich Seidl Filmproduktion