""People are so cruel"," sighs the aged Mr Walter (Erich Finsches) at the end of Austrian documentary-maker Ulrich Seidl's first fiction film. After the battering the previous two hours have dealt, this is the understatement of the year.
Like his fellow countryman Michael Haneke, Seidl takes a detached, unflinching view of human beings at their worst (it's no surprise to learn that German barmpot Werner Herzog is a fan). Here Seidl spins a multi-stranded narrative set in the Vienna suburbs during a summer weekend. Scenarios on offer include a dotty hitchhiker who pays an awful price for her prattling, and a terrifying soiree involving a masochistic teacher, her pimp-lover and his twisted pal. As for Mr Walter, his story plays something like an OAP version of Vertigo.
Seidl displays an Altman-like knack for juggling multiple plotlines, but the sweat-soaked grimness of it all makes it a tough slog to the end credits. In this climate, the sunbathers that continually pop up look more like murder victims. More importantly, the abuse the characters suffer ensures that the script's occasional dark chuckle is swiftly forgotten.
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