The cage imageEditorial
Writer and researcher Aarón Rodríguez Serrano tackles in this text for Curtocircuito 2018's catalogue the key elements of Ulrich Seidl's cinema, from his framing to his positioning regarding the people he films.
I often continue to be surprised by the frames of Ulrich Seidl. In fact, when I have the chance to see his films again at home, many times I cannot avoid pausing the image, lingering on the way in which his rooms become cages. It is a question that has to do with the very layout of the filmic form: to diminish the body of its actors, to maintain an icy distance, to dismantle any type of melodramatic element. Movie after movie, as if it were a kind of personal process, we witness a constant settling of old scores with the cinema and the world. A world that his camera sometimes seems not to have the slightest desire to sublimate, but rather, the one that comes closer to between shame and irony to encapsulate its protagonists until reducing their gestures and their sufferings to the fascinating look under the microscope.
Certainly, there will be plenty of voices that reproach Seidl for his radically anti-humanist project. We can not blame anyone for continuing to pursue the old platonic idea that only in beauty - in this case, in the image - does the idea of good unfold in some way. Quite the opposite, Seidl's films explicitly demonstrate the opposite. His frames are exquisitely planned, respecting the proportions derived from the Renaissance perspective with the greatest ferocity, unfolding around the golden ratio and yet it is precisely there where the driving forces and emotions flow and are confused. Nothing so contradictory, and hence, nothing so fascinating: in the iron control of the elements -where it is made explicit that there is a lens that refuses to change the shot- it is precisely where a horror erupts that is so exaggerated that we don’t know whether to burst out laughing or leave the room deeply terrified. It doesn’t matter. Seidl’s movies tell us again and again that, no matter how much we refuse to look, its content will continue to unfold endlessly.
Let's take a simple example. The inordinate confessions in Jesus, You Know (Jesus, Du weisst, 2003) where the camera is usually positioned at a distance halfway between the altar and the face of the believer. Owing to the use of wide angles, the lines of the temple expand wildly and the human body that is confessing is reduced almost to a visual anecdote, a smudged spot in the theological landscape. We don’t know if Seidl wants us to imagine the perspective of a God indifferent to the verbalized brutalities of human behavior or if, on the contrary, he takes pleasure in eroding that old idea, so characteristic of the vivid Renaissance ideology, which situated man as the driving force and justification of creation. Perhaps his camera is capable of saying both things at the same time – the question is: are we able to read them in the abrasive depth they require? There will not be, in any case, any modification of the scale or angle of the camera. There will be no break, nor a reframing that allows us to escape when faced with the space/body-word inequality. The filmic time will expand unbearably until we have no choice but to tear ourselves away from the compositional relentlessness of the Director.
Any of the films that make up the exquisite selection that Curtocircuíto has prepared will repeat this same idea over and over again. You will see that there is absolutely no repentance in the showing of non-normative bodies, that there is no sensuality but crushing genitality and perversion, where you will sometimes feel extraordinary compassion for their main characters, but the Director, as if he were an illusionist, will transform your moral conceptions into an inexplicable magic trick. Empathy is, perhaps, the great enemy of Ulrich Seidl's films and you will see how he fights against it with all the possible narratological tools: punch lines with broad brushstrokes, frivolisation of decency and historical catastrophies, demolition of the subterfuges which feed the neoliberal capitalist framework –the wild unification of the holidaymakers and the description of the sexual exchanges in Paradise: Love (2012) is, probably, one of the (horrendous) peaks of contemporary European cinema. So, if you let yourself be seduced and provoked by Seidl's films, you will undoubtedly be one step closer to understanding the tapestries and illusions that we are going to surround our body with day by day, our relationship with others and, of course, our own perception of the cinematographic event. As it often happens with great texts, I can not promise you that it will be an easy or pleasant experience. Perhaps it is not necessary either: it is enough to know that images can be built to be demolished, with a firm and decisive showdown, the places where we have been placing the truth for centuries.