Movie review of “In the Basement”: This often hilarious documentary descends into the unseen spaces of Austrian homes — literally and figuratively — and creates a stage for their residents’ fantasies of sex, violence and power.
Ulrich Seidl’s raw portrayals of ordinary people have been criticized as unflattering and wallowing in abjection. But occasionally, as in his newest, “In the Basement,” the director can make you wonder whether the problem doesn’t lie with his films but with everyone else’s.
This often hilarious movie descends into the unseen spaces of Austrian homes — literally and figuratively — and creates a stage for their residents’ fantasies of sex, violence and power.
Predominantly nonfiction, this film is a show-and-tell tour of private hobbies: explicit sadomasochism, target practice, fake babies, prostitution shoptalk, hideous interior design, trophy hunting and boozefests amid Nazi memorabilia.
‘In the Basement,’ a documentary directed by Ulrich Seidl. 81 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In German, with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
Seidl’s favored diorama perspective, evoking modern photographers and hyperrealist sculptors, allows us to gaze at his unkempt, lumpen specimens with unobstructed curiosity.
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Seidl’s stylization feels more like a distrust of familiar realism than artificiality for its own sake, or a mocking freak show. He also sets up an implicit yet bold dialogue between male and female versions of fantasy and resistance (which might be why he crosses into fiction with a recurring staged bit about a middle-aged woman who coos over baby dolls she keeps in boxes).
Maybe it’s the camera positioning that can feel off-putting to some: Heads are often at center screen, with plenty of space above. Or maybe that’s just a way of making us look people right in the eye.