In his biting, subversive, unsettling and wryly outlandish documentary In the Basement – imbued with his distinctive formal rigour and cutting tonal palette, and at times even blurring the lines with fiction filmmaking – Seidl took his hapless viewers, both literally and metaphorically, on a rather macabre journey into Vienna’s sordid underbelly and warped entrails. By focusing on the basements of a few handpicked middle-aged, white, suburbia residents, therefore, he provided discomfiting peeks into some of their darkest secrets, murky and haunting Freudian obsessions and repressions, sexual addictions venturing into BDSM, and the disturbing prevalence of neo-Nazi pride and xenophobic tendencies. And, while the brutal candidness of the various tableaux and the gallows humour therein are bound to make this a visceral viewing experience, the fact that it was at times difficult to guesstimate the degree of enactment within these portrayals also made this an interesting testament to the role of a documentarian and the possible realms of documentary filmmaking. The vignettes have been captured usually using static, muted, medium-long shots: a middle-aged man and amateur tenor who uses his massive basement space as a firing range for a group of men who spew vitriol against Muslim immigrants when they’re not target practicing; a raging Hitler aficionado who’s filled his den with Nazi memorabilia; a woman who loves cradling authentic looking baby dolls stored inside shoeboxes in her cellar; a man who lives as a naked sex slave to his dominatrix mistress; a woman who’d faced sexual abuse and helps others, being ironically addicted to masochism; a hunting maniac who loves boasting of his string of animal head trophies (Seidl would expand this theme in his brilliant next docu Safari); etc.
Director: Ulrich Seidl
Genre: Documentary/Black Comedy/Social Satire