WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival, Dog Days is the feature-film debut of Austrian documentarian Ulrich Seidl. This is a painful film, a difficult-to-watch film. Think of it as a sad, cruel fat man sweating like a split sausage as he forces a sagging old woman to perform a striptease under a broiling sun. Come to think of it, that's awfully close to one of this ugly film's final scenes.
Set in Vienna on a hot-as-hell summer weekend, Dog Days interweaves several stories, all of which involve bitter, hideous, or mean-spirited human beings. There's the incredibly irritating, mentally challenged hitchhiker who berates and annoys the commuters who reluctantly pick her up. There's the repugnant widower who forces his cleaning lady to wear his dead wife's clothes and strip for him. There's the bitter divorced couple sharing the same tense home. There's the sad woman in a cruelly abusive relationship with her ass of a boyfriend and his even scarier buddy. There are others, and shortly these threads of desperation and ugliness begin to flow together into a tapestry of depravity. This movie will make you feel dirty and sick—and that's clearly its aim.
Seidl seems to get off on portraying human beings at their absolute worst. Which is an interesting premise, but in practice, it makes for an almost completely unwatchable film experience. Dog Days wallows in fat humans, sweat-drenched clothes, middle-aged porn (yes, briefly hardcore), sour expressions, mental and physical torture, humiliation, and huge women in bikinis.
The one thing I admired about this dank enterprise was the way it turned its suburban landscape into a kind of hell. You'll recognize this setting: It's the same as any American suburban landscape, complete with supermarkets and gas stations and apartment complexes. And yet its inhabitants and its mood transform this place into the darkest place imaginable.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Seville presents Dog Days in a drab anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. The image is washed out and contains ever-present mosquito noise and grain. Colors are muted, and blacks are shallow. Background detail is poor, and the print itself is dirty and splotchy. Finally, the transfer has a large amount of shifty artifacting. Close-up detail is satisfactory, but overall, this is a mediocre effort.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 2.0 German track provides a flat audio experience with no discernible separation, even across the front. Dialog is accurate and clear, though. You can choose between English and French subtitles.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
If you're in the mood for a circus tent full of human freakishness and misery, this is the film for you. Otherwise, steer clear.