Just like hottest days of summer can be uncomfortable to bear, Dog Days is equally uncomfortable to watch.
If there is one thing Ulrich Seidl is the master of, it is getting a reaction out of his audience. Whether or not it is a positive one is another story. This is especially in film Dog Days as there are an inordinate amount of reviews detailing people walking out on the film in the theaters. It is not very hard to see why; the film shows its cruel nature from the very beginning, and does not loosen its grip by the time the credits start to roll. It cannot be overstated enough that the film is not for everyone.
As suggested by its title, Dog Days is set during the hottest days of the summer in a suburb of Vienna. In this suburban development, the unoriginal mass-produced houses share the same misery as the owners that occupy them. Through the lives of several different characters, the film exhibits the loneliness of these middle-class Austrian citizens, often in a deranged sexual manner.
Characters range from a stripper who gets abused by her over-protective boyfriend that hits her as much as any guy who looks at her, to an autistic hitchhiker who constantly recites useless Top 10 facts while making perverse sexual conversation with the passengers. Other characters include; a skeptical alarm salesman, an elderly man who longings for his housekeeper, a middle-aged teacher who seemingly welcomes sexual depraved men to have their way with her, and a divorced couple that somehow thinks living together is a good idea.
These are not all the characters contained in the film, but the point is that none of them are at all flattering. Dog Days never asks for a single ounce of sympathy from any of the characters, mostly because none of them have any redeeming qualities. There is nothing wrong with filling up the screen with a bunch of flawed characters, but the real issue here is in the lack of direction. Unlike Seidl’s more recent work in Paradise: Love, Dog Days is much less refined. Therefore, the clarity of the film’s intent becomes much less apparent.
Early in Ulrich Seidl’s career, he made a name for himself from the documentaries he made. Here in his first narrative feature, he utilizes some of the same characteristics that a documentary has in order to achieve the same feel of authenticity. A good example of this is how the film mostly observes its characters, rather than the perception of them being controlled by a script.
Just like hottest days of summer can be uncomfortable to bear, Dog Days is equally uncomfortable to watch. Instead of containing a realized plot, the film is more of a character study on the people of a grotesque suburban community. Back in 2001, the film won the Grand Special Jury prize at the Venice Film Festival and ever since then people have been debating whether the film actually accomplishes anything significant. So it appears as though questioning its effectiveness is unavoidable, but at the same time, so are having reactions to the film. Sometimes any reaction at all can be considered a success, but it is hard to say this film succeeded on any other level.