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East, West and CentreReframing post-1989 European Cinema$
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Michael Gott and Todd Herzog

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780748694150

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748694150.001.0001

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Challenging the East–West Divide in Ulrich Seidl’s Import Export (2007)

Challenging the East–West Divide in Ulrich Seidl’s Import Export (2007)

(p.65) Chapter 4 Challenging the East–West Divide in Ulrich Seidl’s Import Export (2007)
East, West and Centre

Nikhil Sathe

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter argues that Ulrich Seidl's Import/Export (2007) expands Austrian cinema's depiction of Eastern Europe and of Eastern European figures by challenging long-held, yet dissolving conceptions of East and West. In the film's intertwined narratives a Ukranian woman lands in Vienna looking for work and an Austrian man heads into Eastern Europe first on a sketchy job and then himself in search of employment. The narratives in Seidl's film explore, on the one hand, the gendered roles that the West allots to Eastern Europeans which involve labour whose end product is assumed to be ephemeral and even erased. On the other, the narrative in Seidl's film set in Eastern European countries allows the film to foreground negative Western perceptions of the East. While a number of reviewers have criticized Seidl as a “social pornographer,” this chapter argues that the disturbing footage of prostitution, online pornography centers, geriatric wards, and substandard living conditions in Eastern Europe have a distinct function within the narrative arcs of the two protagonists’ unsuccessful, yet ultimately hopeful journeys toward liberation and economic security. Seidl's film reflects on and reconfigures dominant and emerging conceptions of the real and imagined East-West divide. Not only does the film refuse to depict actual border crossings and present strikingly similar landscapes in the allegedly backward Ukraine and ostensibly superior Vienna, it also offers challenging narratives that demand Western viewers to confront their preconceived perceptions of the East.

Keywords:   Austrian Cinema, Ulrich Seidl, Migration, Eastern Europe, Cinematic journeys, Eastern Europe, Ukraine

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