With its dark and somewhat obvious portrayal of wealthy Austrians and Germans on a hunting safari in Africa, Ulrich Seidl’s new documentary suggests that the acclaimed filmmaker needs to start challenging himself.
In his previous film Im Keller, director Ulrich Seidl asked his fellow Austrians to show their basements to him, and what they enjoyed doing in them. The concept seemed perfect for the filmmaker who has chronicled the darker sides of Austria’s population in both his documentary and fiction films, highlighted by a rare ability to make his participants share sides of themselves most people would have kept hidden.
But maybe the concept was a bit too perfect. Im Keller turned out to be exactly how one might imagine an Ulrich Seidl film about this topic: In stylized tableaus combined with more observational scenes, a selection of more or less obese Austrians proudly presented their basements and the associated leisure activities, which included playing brass music, the practice of extreme BDSM sex and memorabilia collecting from the heyday of National Socialism. And although Joseph Fritz’s recent crimes were never directly addressed, their shadow further darkened all these downstairs rooms.
One of the basements in Im Keller was decorated with several stuffed animals, which may have pointed the filmmaker in the direction of his next project. In his latest documentary Safari, Seidl follows various Austrians and Germans on a hunting trip in Namibia and South Africa as they sneak up and shoot animals like warthogs, buffalo, zebras and giraffes, whose heads end up on the walls of the hunters’ respective homes.
Triumphant poses. This hunting enterprise seems to be neatly organized in specialized parks, where local employees prepare and show the Europeans how to go about the hunt. According to the hunters themselves, they pay much more for this experience than regular safari tourists, including a detailed prize list for the selection of animals they might kill. To further underline the tourist aspect, every hunt depicted in the film ends with a solemn photo session, which finds the hunter who fired the fatal shot posing triumphantly by his or her once-so-majestic prey.
These observational hunting sequences are combined with interviews with the same hunters (along with a couple who runs one of the parks), filmed in Seidl’s singular style: Static images capturing their surroundings as much as the interviewees, which in this case includes an excessive amount of stuffed hunting trophies. In addition, the film includes several sequences with a middle aged couple sunbathing, which are also unmistakably “Seidlesque” – more specifically resembling some of the scenes found in his 2001 feature film Dog Days.
Colonial reminders. The film also includes scenes with the local employees, skinning and cleansing the animal corpses, while the white hunters passively observe their work. Thus, it is not only the blood and guts that can make you feel a bit sick to your stomach, but also the obvious parallels to colonial times.
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