Abuse allegations in the mirror – Ulrich Seidl and our unease with uncomfortable culture


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Are children exploited in Romania? Director Ulrich Seidl is under criticism. It touches the core of his way of making films.

There are allegations that a career could end abruptly. During the filming of his new feature film “Sparta,” Austrian director Ulrich Seidl brought minors in front of the camera without explicitly indicating to them and their parents what was meant to be depicted behind the scenes: pedophilia.

It is said that the child was encouraged to do a nude scene. Tears flowed. The children were tired. They can no longer distinguish between fantasy and reality.

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There were already unpleasant scenes with young people in the Seidl movie “Paradise: Hoffnung” about diet camp.

Film production by Ulrich Seidl

Based on extensive research, the German magazine “Der Spiegel” paints in its article the picture of a filmmaker who bullies his heroes.

Anxiety is part of it

To some extent, “Spiegel” opens doors. Anyone who watches a film by director Ulrich Seidl sees many people moving away from their comfort zones.

It is often ordinary people who create an oppressive atmosphere with their wrong behavior or strange statements. The cryogenic way in which taboos are broken is more than just breaking taboos.

White old woman standing on the beach where many black men seem to be waiting for her

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Breaking taboos is his trademark: in “Paradise: Love” Seidl talks about Austrian sex tourists in Kenya.

Imago Group / Everett

The audience rightly asks: Was it as uncomfortable to photograph people in front of the camera as when watching? The excitement of this reaction has been part of Seidl’s uncomfortable art for nearly three decades. You don’t have to love his art, but Seidel masters it: otherwise he would have left the window long ago.

All criteria are met

Now the director says: There were areas of decline in the group. Minors were educationally accompanied at all times. However, this practice is standard when photographing with children. So Ulrich Seidl is not indirectly defending himself against the accusation that he abused children, but only because he and his production team worked as amateurs.

In general, Spiegel’s claims are much less significant than they seem at first glance. That children have encountered inappropriate sexual content: This has not been proven. But if that were the case: it would not only be reprehensible, but above all extremely unprofessional. Unprofessional of an artist who knows how to cross boundaries like this.

Seidl . has not been canceled

Ironically, Spiegel’s claims give Seidl a tailwind: festivals are behind him, and thus behind artistic freedom as well. They do not want to be accused of engaging in “abolition of culture”. And the affected movie “Sparta” – which was a guess at the time of writing – is probably not a hardcore movie.

The man with glasses and short gray hair looks thoughtful

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Likely to get away with a black eye: Ulrich Seidl in 2016 during an interview about his movie “Safari”.

Keystone / APA / Herbert Neubauer

However: since the #MeToo movement, the public has been concerned when something goes wrong on a movie set. That’s how it should be – at least in the case of Ulrich Seidl, whose films often do not give the impression that they were made by pure mutual agreement.

But what Spiegel reveals, we already knew: In the Seidl group, things don’t go back and forth like they do at the zoo.

Maybe not a profession

That’s right: abusive or misplaced behavior could end a career in the world of cinema. But that usually happens when the industry turns its back on anyone because of internal, credible complaints about them. And not because of the media (prior) judgment.

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