Attitudes change pretty fast. Two years ago the graphic orgy scene that in Dog Days serves to introduce us to a grieving mother would have been the focus of much editorial. I was shocked when director Urich Seidl swerves his film to it at such an early stage. Despite its recent boom, I personally am still not used to viewing graphic sex on the big screen (whether the sweaty bumping and groaning was simulated or not, I cannot say) but this wasn't what made me shuffle in my seat. What had displaced me more was when I have previously ventured to watch the likes of Intimacy (2001) or The Idiots (1998) I at least had prior warning that, as Jarvis Cocker sang so eloquently, This is Hardcore. Here, it was a completely unheralded experience.
Whether filmed penetrative sex within European art cinema comes under the banner of 'pornography' or 'taboo shattering' is up to your own peccadilloes. All I could help thinking was that the use of biological 'special effects' is becoming such a recurrence in western arthouse fodder that surely it would be nice if someone used the old unfaked in-and-out to depict a loving relationship. Of course this is not going to happen any time soon. Directors are only willing to depict the act as a frosty transaction for this grants them an edgier critical cache and saves them from doing anything that might be confused with being original.
Seidl, a former documentary maker, succumbs to this weakness throughout Dog Days. He has assembled a rouge gallery of non-professionals and unknowns to go through a series of interrelating scenarios of increasing depravity. A middle aged teacher is terrorised by her dim boyfriend and dimmer compatriot. A widower gets his elderly housekeeper to perform a striptease in his dead wife's clothes. Anna, a mentally ill hitchhiker pesters people to drive her from one anonymous shopping mall to another. She proceeds to annoy them with top ten lists, relentless personal question and a very maudlin mix tape. There are least four or five more digressions in this cul-de-sac of exposÚs, but seeing as none of them really develop further than these single sentence descriptions I will not spoil all of them for you. They manage this without my help through their one note, never ending nature.
On the plus side, Seidl's documentary background means that we rarely feel that we are watching professionals playing up to camera. It is almost as if the director has rounded up an am-dram society to perform what he could never find people to do in his fact-based works. Proof perhaps that the truth while sometimes not strange enough can still be better than fiction. You really don't get stranger than a Peter Stringfellow look-alike with a lit candle stuck up his arse singing the Austrian national anthem at gunpoint.
What aggravates me most about the smutty mini-genre that Dog Days belongs to, is that in it's own way it is much nastier and exploitative than good old traditional as apple pie pornography. Despite a very brief blip in the seventies, porn has always been the dung beetle to Hollywood's apex predator and World Cinema's doomed gazelle in the celluloid food chain. Dog Days' type of glorified humiliation offers very little insight into humanity or cinematic craftsmanship yet is invariably treated as important. The film is only interested in making middle class adults feel smug and superior about themselves. Unlike Michael Haneke's mediations on violence, it doesn't even question why the audience endures what should be repellent for them to watch.
Annoying conservative critics is a fine past time for filmmakers. Being disavowed by the prudish is relatively easy money but making a watchable film is much harder work. Perhaps directors on the continent could take a note from the British sit-com, The League of Gentlemen. Royston Vassey's finest deal with Dog Days' stock and trade but manage to be paced, affectionate and cine-literate in their parade of grotesques.
Reviewed by Bob Carroll
Reader comments about Dog Days
Ketil Bleidin (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes:
Exelent. Has got a lot in common with the Swedish film "Songs From The Second Floor". Very realistic, funny and at times mindbowing. Full of clever observations and controversial scenes. Defenetly deserves more attention.
Animal love is perhaps better, alas they are both difficult to purchase on dvd!
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