Eye For Film >> Movies >> Animal Love (1996) Film Review
Reviewed by: Michael Pattison
The title of Animal Love (Tierische Liebe) is two-fold: on an obvious level, the film concerns itself with humanity’s fondness for animals, while on another level, which reveals itself only as the film progresses, love might be seen as bodily, as physical – as, furthermore, an innate sensibility that must find expression, no matter the cost or context.
Ulrich Seidl’s unique, stylised documentary depicts in trademark, single-take set-ups a number of Viennese residents and their relationships to their beloved pets (dogs for the most part, though bunnies, ferrets, rats and guinea pigs also feature). The director’s distinctive feel for the authentic is present: tempering his palpable curiosity for the bizarre and even the grotesque with a non-judgemental compassion, Seidl follows the daily lives of a couple of homeless men who ask passers-by for money in order to feed their various pets, juxtaposing them with a pair of male homeowners who read from dog-breeding manuals while explaining their anarchist convictions to one another. Other subjects include a married couple whose continued arguing apparently zaps them of time and energy with which to care for their dog, which lies forlornly in the background of the frame; another couple are into swinging; a middle-aged singleton dances with her dog as if it were a prom partner; a middle-aged man has a fondness for unemotional phone sex, and so on.
Seidl’s portraits are driven by a dialectical dynamic: just as the behaviour of any domesticated animal is conditioned by the domestic space in which it is brought up, our relationship to our animals in the first place is informed in large part by the extent to which society is able to fulfil our desire for company and affection to begin with. An unhappy home breeds an unhappy dog; a caring home makes an affectionate dog, and so on. The violent rhetoric of the male homeowners here is manifested, for example, in their canine’s vicious, hard-to-watch attack on another, much smaller dog when out one day they walk.
It’s in Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979) that the director-star, as Ike Davis, converses with Mary Wilke (Diane Keaton), when the latter quips that her dachshund is a penis substitute; “I would’ve thought then that in your case it would’ve been a Great Dane,” Ike replies. Seidl’s film takes this gag to its extreme with a cumulatively, corroboratory, multi-voiced essay film, in which dogs are increasingly viewed in compensatory terms: their ubiquitous presence here might in some way be representative of material society’s denial of basic needs, whether physical or emotional.Reviewed on: 02 May 2013