Filmmaker Ulrich Seidl wants to explore the personal lives of Austrians in order to find out their secrets, their fetishes. What’s the best way to find out the truth: explore the basements in peoples homes. Within the buried walls, Seidl finds a vast array of people ranging from Nazi enthusiasts to S&M devotees.
After the success of the “Paradise Trilogy”, Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl returns with “Im Keller” or “In the Basement”. Seidl, known for blurring the lines between fiction and nonfiction, often with a predominant themes of erotica and sexuality, seems to have abandoned working in fiction and fully embrace the documentary medium. “In the Basement” is a film designed to explore the sanctity of people’s homes — or more specifically, their basements — in order to explore the secrets people keep within their subterranean getaways.
For some reason, there’s a great deal of focus put on some of the content of “In the Basement” in order to label it as shocking — granted it’s pointless to discuss whether or not something is shocking because it’s subjective — but at no point does Seidl’s film feel like its intended purpose is to shock or provoke the audience. There is an intentional voyeuristic design to the movie and the camera does not shy away from some of the situations occurring within the basements. Such as a man having is genitals tortured during an S&M session or a woman receiving cunnilingus. These segments tend to stand out since there are many sequences and interviews that are much more tame, but in retrospect, none of it ever comes across as offensive but rather honest in the film’s intentions.
And, obviously, the intention is meant to show the often unseen side of people’s private lives but there doesn’t seem to be an interest to explore any further than that. There are roughly about five 'basements' that we spend time with and get to know the people who inhabit them. The rest are either reduced to short segments — like the woman who keeps realistic baby dolls hidden in various boxes and treats them like real children, or a man who’s proud over his hunting skills and trophies. Or only mere clips of folks standing around in their basements are show — young kids sitting on a couch with walls covered in posters, a middle-aged couple with their own club/bar, etc..
With Seidl’s penchant for mixing fiction with nonfiction, it is hard to say with certainty if what we are watching is in fact entirely real. There is no doubt that “In the Basement” is a documentary but the viewers are kept at arm’s length from the subjects; there are no up close and personal interviews with anyone. When people speak, shots are wide and often framed to expose three walls of the basement. Reinforcing that voyeur tone but also giving the film almost sitcom-like visual presence, but on surreal level. So while the people and their activities seem realistic the film’s presentation makes it seem less natural. That’s not a bad thing though; “In the Basement” doesn’t want to understand why a man obsesses over Hitler (who proclaims reaching a portrait of Hitler on his wedding day was the best gift he’d ever received), or why a woman seeks out relationships through bondage. Its only purpose is to show the unseen side of average people and what kind of things are occurring in basements across Austria. Not as shock content. Not as a sideshow attraction. But just the way life is.
On one hand, “In the Basement” approach to its content does come across as simplistic — especially in this day and age where we’re use to documentaries digging and digging until it uncovers some shocking, emotional discovery. Seidl’s only purpose with this film is to show that normal, everyday people are in fact pretty fucking weird (and I don’t mean that disparagingly). Well, actually, it shows how everyone is fucking weird, because people in general are weird (whether they think so or not). The film also goes to show that even when we are within the walls of our own home, we still like to hideaway this one facet of our lives that makes us who we are as individuals — or what makes us happy — in a room that’s seldom seen. “In the Basement” may not be shocking and it may not show you anything new in regards to the secret lives of people, but the way in which it handles the material still makes for a fascinating viewing experience.
Note: As per usual, we don't include ratings for these kind of documentaries.