Last week was a bit crazy. Like seemingly most of Netflix’s subscribers, my shipments were interrupted for several days. Unlike most subscriber’s my movies were delayed for an entire week, which lead me to a slight problem, in that I had no way of watching The Devil’s Rain. Thus putting me in a bit of a bind with what to write this week. Luckily here in Minneapolis there is an outstanding video store that would come to my aid, a video store by the name of Cinema Revolution.
Now Cinema Revolution is not your average ordinary video rental store. You won’t find any video games, or used DVD’s for sale, or even candy and soda carefully distributed near the counter to spur impulse buys. No, Cinema Revolution simply has movies to rent, and what great movies they are. Dedicated to carrying only foreign and independent films, Cinema Revolution is a cinephile’s dream store. Organized by country with subcategories for directors, Cinema Revolution is designed for those who both know and love film and I was confident I would find a suitable replacement to watch and review for Monday’s column.
Three hours of recording later I was without any time to write and deep in the doghouse with Anna for being out well past my original curfew. This meant rather then writing Tuesday morning I spent my day off doing hard labor around the house in a shallow and thinly veiled attempt at currying favor with her. It didn’t work very well. But buying her favorite foodstuff for her to ingest for dinner certainly helped matters.
So now I sit here late on a Tuesday night, way past my self-imposed deadline of getting a review posted on the site, trying to stealthily slide in a replacement film that will live up to lofty expectations you readers had for The Devil’s Rain. The good news is that Netflix finally shipped me The Devil’s Rain and it will be reviewed next week. The better news is that the replacement film, a 1995 Austrian documentary entitled Animal Love (Tierische Liebe) is one heck of a pinch hitter.
As I stated earlier, Animal Love is an Austrian documentary, but what I didn’t tell you is that it focuses on people who tend to devote too much of their lives to loving their animals. But as these people grow more and more attached to their pets, it is clear they are drifting further and further from reality, creating their own private worlds free from humanity with their companions that are incapable of rejecting them.
One of the more interesting aspects of Animal Love is its lack of structure. Rather then focusing on any specific narrative or individuals, Animal Love bounces around from person to person, focusing more on the few interactions these people have with the real world. Several people show up multiple times throughout the film, and while their stories might be interesting, Animal Love makes no attempt to give the viewer even a hint of resolution. Other individuals appear for only fractions of a scene, disappearing forever into the background of the odd reality they have concocted for themselves, but time and again the images they leave with the viewer will be impossible to forget.
But as powerful as the many images in Animal Love are, they are constantly undercut by the choice of director Ulrich Seidl to stage almost the entire film. The opening scene in the film is purposely staged of a man playing with his dog in a corner of his house, and throughout the film both people and their pets are posed for artistic and ridiculous shots.
One particular subject is a woman who is clearly over acting every single one of her scenes. As she painfully reads the love letters sent to her from her numerous Johns, to her dramatic bubble bath and finally to her rolling around in her bathrobe on her bed with her seriously overweight Husky. At one point she partially undresses and begins to rub herself against her dog. Is this truly her behavior that the camera happened to capture? Or is she merely playing up her relationship with her dog in order to better showcase the film’s desire to hint at bestiality in these relationships?
While early on in the film Animal Love is content to intercut the occasional staged portrait in between following various animal lovers around Austria, in the later half it is its continual reliance on insinuating these people might have a more physical relationship with their pets that the entire film begins to feel painfully false while simultaneously inducing nausea.
While nothing is overt, the film routinely hints at bestiality. In one particular instance, a man stands naked in the corner with his dog. Clearly staged, it is almost impossible to decipher just what Seidl hopes to accomplishes with such an odd and disturbing picture outside of unsettling the viewer. But when other participants begin to show odd interactions with their animal one can’t help but question the realism inherent in any of the filmed sequences. Resulting in Animal Love as a powerful vision of grotesqueness, yet ultimately with a distinct lack of substance by which it could stand on.