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The gods we keep in the basement according to Ulrich Seidl

The Austrian Ulrich Seidl began his film campaign in 1980. It was not long before he stood out for his ability to scandalize audiences with scenes from the daily reality of many people seeking comfort on the margins of society. All of his characters are clearly broken inside but where this fracture is most evident is of course in his relationship with others. His marginal expressions of sex, violence and especially religion confirm in his documentaries that reality always surpasses fiction.

Article by Pablo Fernández from Barcelona on Wednesday, December 22nd 2021 ·.·★ Reading takes 11 minutes or 2284 words.

Veronika Franz has been the couple and scriptwriter who has accompanied Ulrich Seidl since the production of the harrowing ′Dog Days′ (2001). They won with her the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. Her latest film ′The Lodge′ (2019) is produced by him and directed by her with the help of hers, her nephew, Severin Fiala. This year 2020 was presented as a year full of opportunities for this family thanks to the first reactions that ′The Lodge′ received. Shortly before the outbreak of COVID-19 they assured that this summer they would begin filming a story related to their short film ′The sinful woman of Híllfall′ already collected in the anthology ′The Field Guide to Evil′ (2018).

Religion and horror movies

The film will be titled, when it can be shot of course, ′The Devil′s Bath′ or ′The Devil&primes Bath.′ The title is actually the expression with which the German reformer Martin Luther himself identified his states of anxiety or melancholy. A popular expression that in this presumably true story, although still unknown according to Ulrich Seidl′s website, leads a young woman from the 18th century to murder a child in a context of religious rituals. Nothing really that can surprise someone who has seen ′The Lodge′ (2019). Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala have spent their lives watching horror movies and are not worried about using elements that are already classic in this genre.

′The Lodge′ is a horror movie without monsters. Veronika Franz assures that ′the monsters are in us and it is we who have the potential to do good or evil′. It is a film that is worth seeing and whose plot it is better not to have read anything before doing it. For our part we will say as a curiosity that the leader of the sect that appears in the film is also in reality the father of the young woman starring Riley Keough. Danny Keough had her from her relationship with Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of musician Elvis Presley, who was also a member of the Scientology sect for years. Her role in the film was almost accidental, but the directors assure that this relationship with the protagonist and her connection with the sects assured them a unique added value. Her mother later married Michael Jackson and young Keough says she still has many fond memories of her home at Graceland where she says there were toys, animals and children everywhere.

The visual prominence of the dollhouse will automatically transfer some of its viewers to the movie ′Hereditary′ (2018) by American director Ari Aster. Which by the way has also seen partially damaged the success of his last film ′Midsommar′ (2019). What happens is that there are dollhouses also in ′Annabelle: Creation′ (2017), ′Amityville Dollhouse′ (1996), ′Nightmare On Elm Street 3′ (1987) and many other movies. Even the emphasis on the religious theme is not necessarily original to these films, as demonstrated in recent studies such as Sinéad Crowe′s ′Religion in Contemporary German Drama′ (2013). Religion is no longer necessarily a taboo subject. What is certainly unique in the stories of Ulrich Seidl is the enormous existential weight with which all his characters carry.

The dark corners of the human being

Ulrich Seidl grew up under the protection of a Catholic family and at that time he came to wish to become a priest. The soundtrack to many of his films will therefore be surprisingly familiar to many European Catholics and Protestants. He finally decided to study journalism and drama at the University of Vienna but most of his works end up showing religious characters in conflict. Severin Fiala assures that his stories reflect faith only in a very particular context in which the characters have suffered trauma and that they have nothing especially against the beliefs that each one has the freedom to choose. Veronika Franz, for her part, assures that if they had grown up in an Islamic country their characters would not be Catholic and that they do not have an agenda against a particular religion.

Hollywood Reporter expresses it by assuring that Ulrich Seidl′s films have specialized in ′showing that evil rhymes with the absurdity of the human being.′ Many times in his work it is not known where reality begins and where it ends and despite being filmed mostly in Austria they have a clear universal vocation thanks to the interrelationship established with emigrants. ′Good News′ (1990) shows the lives of different newsmen from Turkey, India or Pakistan and is of course an example of how close we are to each other on an existential level.

′Jesus, you know′ or ′Jesus, Du weisst′ (2003) is another tabloid of universal dramas, also personified in marginal lives, this time through the literal recording of the prayers of six different Catholics. Do not expect editorial opinions in this documentary, or conclusions to draw. Ulrich Seidl makes sure to record young and old women and men in order to achieve the aforementioned universality. The chamber is mostly in the place of the altar in front of which each one of them exposes the deepest anguish of him. What happens is that in addition to pious feelings many times other darker words also come out of his lips that reveal his particular miseries. When the camera is moved to show the altar there is only room for dolls, blood or inert bodies, idols that between prayer and prayer need to be cleaned of the accumulated dust.

The satisfaction we find in the basement

Ulrich Seidl takes up the same theme in ′Our Father (2004), shot this time in an airport chapel, but especially in his trilogy ′Paradise: Love (2012), ′Paradise: Faith (2012 ) and ′Paradise: Hope (2013), thanks to which he competed among others for the Palme d′Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Faith, hope and love is not in vain a trilogy mentioned by the apostle Pablo who here distinguishes three different generations of women. All three continue to seek redemption through their particular satisfaction, but that satisfaction ultimately avoids them despite their sincere efforts and inquiries on the margins of society. ′Paradise: Faith in particular shows Maria Hofstítter aka Anna Maria very satisfied when she whips herself and consoles herself by tucking the crucifix between her blankets; but the world is for her an inexhaustible source of hostility. The final painting is tremendously compassionate, which undoubtedly adds great value to it.

Modernity did not have to come for us to come to doubt God. The Bible opens precisely with characters who already in the garden of Eden actively decide to doubt God. Nor has postmodernity had to come for us to want to believe in the Divine again. The archaeological remains prove that we have always been surrounded and bowed before hundreds of thousands of gods kept in our basement. That is why it is so familiar after everything we see in ′In the Basement′ or ′Im Keller′ (2014). Local and small gods that today also fit on our shelves and that we can carry in our bag from one house to another. Gods to whom we sincerely open our lives in the hope that they will restore it and give it the value that we are not capable of giving it ourselves.

Children who suspect and plot against their guardians are also recurring characters in Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. We can find them clearly defined in ′Goodnight, Mommy (2014) or ′The Lodge (2019). What guarantee do we have that they mean well? Are they even really our parents? Something does not necessarily exist because we give it a shape by wanting it to exist, in the same way that something does not necessarily cease to exist because we want it to cease to exist. There is an obvious mystery that many have misused for their own benefit as The New York Times assures when commenting ′Jesus, you know.′ That anguish and helplessness that many of us call life is, however, what God intends to restore through his son his Jesus his. ′For God so loved the world,′ writes the apostle John, ′that he gave his only begotten son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.′

The God who can no longer make himself known

Jesus did not write a single word of the gospels. There were also good reasons why none of his disciples made a simple portrait of him and the Romans simply treated the early Christians as atheists because of their explicit antipathy to idolatry. Larry W. Hurtado explains this in detail in ′Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World′ (Baylor University Press, 2016). When on his journey he passes Areopagus around AD 54, the apostle Paul endeavors to present Jesus literally as the opposite of an idol. That strategy he knew perfectly well that it was not going to help him get the largest audience in that city, a city that, to avoid the mystery, had even raised an altar to the ′unknown god.′ Apollodorus of Athens, Philostratus the Younger and Pausanias also speak of this divinity who also had that of his own temple in Athens and at least one altar on the Palatine Hill in Rome.

′The God who made the world and all things in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made by human hands,′ Paul would then say to those Athenian religious. ′He Neither is he honored by the hands of men, as if he needed something; for he is the one who gives everyone life and breath and all things. And of one blood he has made all the lineage of men, so that they may dwell on all the face of the earth; and he has fixed for them the order of the times, and the limits of his habitation; so that they may seek God, if in some way, by feeling, they can find him, although he certainly is not far from each one of us. ′ A God so great that he cannot be contained in a basement, nor in a temple, nor a Universe of more than two thousand trillion galaxies must necessarily be a God who is not concerned about the need to make himself better known. There is simply no better way!

God is therefore not so interested in making himself known in another way as in making us stop doubting him. That we turn around giving a radical change and we begin to trust him. ′Because in him we live, and we move, and we are; as some of your own poets have also said: Because we are his lineage. Being, then, lineage of God, we must not think that the Divinity is similar to gold, or silver, or stone, sculpture of art and imagination of men. But God, having overlooked the times of this ignorance, now commands all men everywhere to repent; because he has established a day in which he will judge the world with justice, by that man whom he appointed, giving faith to all with having raised him from the dead. ′

This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as Los dioses que guardamos en el sótano según Ulrich Seidl

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