Friday, October 13, 2006

Animal Love ('Tiersche Liebe', 1995) review

Done four-years before Models (1999), this is another of director Ulrich Seidl's (Jesus, You Know) submersions into Austrian-subculture, as well as a testament to the modern-crisis of isolation and solitude. The real people Seidl located for this film are on the margins of Austrian-society, which is a little different for him. Rather than his usual suburban and urban-subjects, he goes for people who are the forgotten of Austria. It could be anywhere: A pair of homeless young-men (whom I pity), an aged bourgeois- bachelorette and her unwholesome-relationship with her dog, two elderly men living in a high-rise tenement and their dog, and so-on. There is a silent-tragedy in the lives of these people that has made them shun people, and filling that hole with their pets. From there, it can get weird.

Nobody in Animal Love is a glamour-puss, but the people are remarkable for their ordinary-qualities--something you don't often see in films these-days. Somehow, by elevating-beauty, we have made the 'ordinary' extraordinary. 'Liebe' begins with a series of simple-tableaux of the owners and their pets. But before we know it, many of the owners begin 'begging-the-question' as to why they are so close to their animal-companions: problems with past-relationships, and a general-disenchantment with people and society. Of course, much of this is from simple-inequality, the press of humanity, and how the workplace structures our lives. The forces that have shaped people in Seidl's documentaries are almost always absent or invisible. He should come to America sometime, he would find more-acute cases of estrangement. Americans are certainly overworked compared to the continental European-model. But, in some cases, it's just broken-lives of people who would be messed-up in a utopia, and this is the fodder of all good drama. Many of the people in this documentary are very-very poor and isolated because of their social-status. This sometimes gives the film the feel of Dickens, but it is instructive and fascinating nonetheless.

The skinny, older Austrian-man has a very interesting series-of-observations about contemporary-life in our modern, and regimented world. It is a general existentialist-position: He correctly-proposes that people become neurotic like animals that are caged because of all the rules and laws that widely confine-us. It is an interesting comment on why the men have their dog, and is underscored when we see them arguing over petty-things. Ironically, the dog attacks the smaller-dog of a woman on a walk outside of their flat, and it just underlines how alienated people are nowadays. Seidl's passionless-gaze on these lives expresses how brutal and cold our world is, and that much of it is natural. Not even the commonality of having-dogs helps these people transcend and communicate with eachother. It's an unfortunate moment for everyone.

One has to face the fact that when you can no-longer imagine anything-else but your routine, you have become conquered. Many people simply don't note this consciously, and they become peculiar in their behaviors. This is a dangerous state to be in. At some point, it leeches-into the culture, and you know an unhappy-one when you see it. Just watch five-minutes of American television, and you tell me we have a 'happy' culture. I'm sure the same can be said for Austria, France, or Germany, as well. Look at Japanese cinema--is it happy? Every politician and businessman in the developed world should watch Seidl's films, so as to see where we are all heading. It would also be a good-lesson for architects and city-planners, so they can make environments people can actually live in. The problem: this situation is to-their-advantage, so the only-solution is to replace-them.

Some of these relationships with the animals in Animal Love definitely border-on bestiality, but Seidl spares us this, at-least; but not much-else. The thin man's discourse on 'too-many rules' and caged-animals hinges-on-this: Are the pets being caged? Or is it the owners? Has modern life been more fully-engineered as a 'trap' than we would care to admit? The viewer has to decide this for themselves, and there are no-explanations, or any need for them. Digging this deeply is what makes Ulrich Seidl the most subversive documentarian alive today, he has no-peer (maybe Herzog). Do not miss any of his films if you value the truth. Werner Herzog's review/statement on this film is spot-on. Not to be missed, and not so depressing as one might think. It beats doing the peeping-Tom routine!