“Im Keller” very much felt like a special made-for-the-cinema episode of Elizabeth T. Spira’s “Alltagsgeschichten”, an Austrian show from the ORF that ran a while back, and focused on interviews with people in a certain area, like the Rennbahnsiedlung (a living area with a rather bad reputation) or the Donauinsel, offering a portrait of the area and the people who are living there, finding a nice balance between the mundane and the weird. “Im Keller” is less about a specific area than a specific place in your home, or simply your life: The basement, be it literally or figuratively, where we hide our innermost desires, our secrets, and parts of our self that we usually hide in public. After a couple of high-profile and truly disturbing cases of despicable things going on in Austrian cellars (like the kidnapping and subsequent yearslong captivity of Natasha Kampusch, or the Fritzl-case, who kept his daugther and her children – fathered by him – jailed in his cellar), its probably apt that filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, who continuously tries to shock and startle people with his movies and documentaries, decided to push into these dark corners of (Austrian?) civilisation, in order to bring some of them into the light. The result is a movie that I found sometimes sad, sometimes disturbing, always entertaining, and mostly harmless.
First of all: Kudos to all the people that agreed to let us peak into their “basements” (again, literally and figuratively) and go out in the open like that. I sincerely hope that there weren’t any repercussions; if I were in their place, I don’t think that I would be able to deal with that – the fact that everyone now knows about these things. So a huge thank you to everyone involved, I do believe that you’re all incredibly brave human beings (hell, even the “cellar nazi” – in the truest sense of the word; which does NOT mean that I sympathize with his world view in any way). Ultimately, whenever you make a documentary like that, where you show people that deviate a little bit from what society considers the norm, you tread a fine line between showing them, and showing them up. And while there definitely are certain scenes that had me laughing about them, instead of with them, ultimately I don’t think that the movie is guilty of that. It’s just a very honest portrait, showing a side of those people that they usually hide; showing them for who and what they are – with all their flaws, frailties, desires and peculiarities. And ultimately, most of them seemed like a nice – if unusual – bunch of people. I do not need to understand or even share their peculiarities in order to feel some kind of affection for (most of) them.
As entertaining as the movie was, and even though it offered some moments and/or statements that I’ll remember for quite a while, I didn’t find it particular startling, shocking or revealing. So there are people in Austria that still mourn after Hitler and the National Socialism? That’s nothing new; I just have to look at election results to notice that (even though, disturbingly, the young voters of the FPÖ slowly but surely seem to outnumber the so-called “Altnazis”, thus shattering my hope that this particular kind of stupidity will die out with that generation). There are some gun fanatics and people that practice BDSM? Well, if that’s what they wanna do, let them. As long as they don’t hurt anyone (or said hurt happens consensually), I have no problem with that. So, if “Im Keller” was meant to shock, than I’m sorry to say that at least with me, it didn’t achieve that effect; to be honest, it hardly even made me feel uncomfortable (and if it did, it usually was because of something xenophobic that was said by some of them). I also think that they put a little too much emphasis on the BDSM-stuff (half the time, the movie might as well be called “In the dungeon”). Besides, there were some weird staged shots that didn’t work for me: People sitting or standing in their basements, staring into the camera. It might have been interesting to learn something about them, if they would have been interviewed, but as it stands, I found those scenes to be very pointless. Ultimately – and as weird as that may sound – I had a good time with the movie; however, I’m not quite sure if that was (all) that Ulrich Seidl intended with it.