Import and Export: Ulrich Seidl's Indiscreet Anthropology of Migration

Martin Brady, Helen Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Austrian director Ulrich Seidl’s documentary and fiction films have received international recognition, and aroused considerable controversy, for their extreme subject matter (xenophobia, deprivation, physical and sexual violence) and for their inimitable style (obsessive symmetry and static tableaux). As a ‘Berufs-Oppositionskünstler’ who refuses to offer straightforward political solutions he has been compared to German directors Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Christoph Schlingensief and his compatriot Michael Haneke. This article examines three films by Seidl, spanning his career to date, which have the theme of migration as their subject: Good News (1990), a study of migrant newspaper vendors in Vienna, Mit Verlust ist zu rechnen (1992), a post-Wende documentary on a failed courtship across the Austrian-Czech border, and the feature film
Import Export (2007), which tells the story of bi-directional migration between Austria and the Ukraine. Seidl’s ‘anthropology of migration’ is examined in the context of Jean Rouch’s cinéma-vérité, and his hyper-stylization is demonstrated to offer a unique way of looking both at contemporary migration and at migrants themselves. Shifts in the portrayal of borders since unification are examined, and Seidl’s unflinching camera is shown not only to ‘voyeurise the voyeurs’, but also to gaze severely yet democratically on transnational movements in the ‘new Europe’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-308
Number of pages14
JournalGerman as a Foreign Language
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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