Relentless in theme and execution, Dog Days is an in-your-face descent into bourgeois hell. Tracking the lives of a group of disparate Viennese suburbanites through two days of a searing heat wave, Seidl's film is both mesmerizing and distasteful. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Venice Film Festival, Dog Days is a savage indictment of middle-class standards.

Among the characters in this episodic drama are a divorced husband and wife (Claudia Martini and Victor Rathbone) still living in the same house, whose child died in a car crash. She deals with the tragedy with sex orgies and pickups, while he has retreated into a near-catatonic shell. A twentysomething beauty (Franziska Weiss) has to cope with an insanely jealous boyfriend (Rene Wanko) who beats her and picks fights with any man who dares look at her. An aging woman (Christine Jirku) prepares to meet her sleazy lover (Victor Hennemann), and finds he has brought along a tattooed lowlife friend (Georg Friedrich) for a mnage a trois.

Interspersed among all this sordidness are episodes involving a motor-mouthed female hitchhiker (Maria Hofstätter) who appears mentally defective and torments the people who pick her up with bizarre questions and esoteric top ten lists.

What's it all about, Ulrich? Well, Dog Days is certainly obvious, if nothing else. It's a portrayal of suburban society as ugly, depressing and full of despair. As if to emphasize the point, Seidl has photographed many of his actors--a combination of very average-looking amateurs and pros--in various stages of undress, with sagging breasts, paunches and butts in full view. There is even a triple-X-rated orgy sequence featuring bodies that would definitely not be found in any Vivid Video production.

Despite the grotesque nature of what's on view, however, Dog Days is certainly compelling. The acting is top-notch, and Seidl's usage of close-ups and hand-held camerawork gives the film a sense of startling immediacy. But ultimately, this is one of those productions that is easier to admire than it is to like. And it begs a key question: What kind of person would pay good money to wallow in this kind of depraved atmosphere for two hours?

--Lewis Beale