Saturday, March 15, 2008

Games yes, funny no

In preparation for Michael Haneke's revision of his sadistic work Funny Games I made it a point to check out Haneke's original film.
I am admittedly only slightly familiar with Haneke's filmmography having seen Cache. I'd heard about Funny Games and that it was a brutal home invasion film but that was the extent of it. What Cache had prepared me for is that Haneke is a director who enjoys luring his audience into a false sense of security and then shattering them with intense images and situations. Funny Games is even more sinister. A meditation on an audience's compulsion and innate appetite towards violence, the film skews viewer expectations at every turn making them hide their eyes while at the same type eager to see more.

The film is a tiny chamber piece with a cast of five characters; a family of three (man, wife and son) and two well-dressed, well-mannered psychopaths. The film takes place over the course of one torturous day where a bourgeois family visits their country home only to encounter the two young men dressed in white claiming to be friends of the neighbors and asking to borrow eggs. It's an in auspicious start to be sure but the scene quickly devolves into the wife screeching for the young men to get out of the house. Actually the troublesome sequences begin even earlier where the couples in car discussion of classical music is suddenly interrupted by incredibly unpleasant heavy metal music as the title card appears. The characters continue on with their discussion (the music is non-diagetic) however the dissonance is incredibly jarring and off-putting. This is only the first of many instances where the audience is "punished" while at the same time getting a visceral buzz. You can check it out below:

Haneke continues to pummel the audience, not with graphic violence, but with incredibly sadistic human behavior. The film is hypnotic, as the two men played by Haneke regular Arno Frisch and Frank Giering effectively cut the family off from the rest of the world and hold them hostage, breaking the father Georg's leg (played by the late, great Ulrich Muhe) with a golf club. They put the family through a number of psychologically torturous situations, embarassing them, degrading and humiliating each member. Haneke teases our expectations suggesting back-story and motivations for the two men and then snatching them away, dismissing them as pointless nonsense, ultimately saying this is malfeasance for malfeasances sake. As the film progresses Haneke goes deeper into a bag of nasty tricks breaking the fourth wall in ways that are shocking and incredibly upsetting. Of course if it weren't for these alterations the movie would come to an end and then where would we be?

Haneke never shows any blood coming FROM people (except in one pivotal scene, with a twist) and provides no answers. The viewer is left with a cold, empty pit in their stomach at the end. There is no sense and no answers to gain from this film. Does it work on it's own merits? It does serve as intriguing meditation on visceral responses from an audience (and contains some devestating performances from Muhle and Susanne Lothar who plays his wife), but as a film to be enjoyed? I wouldn't want anyone liking this film as anything other than as an academic examination of it's audience responses.

I'm not entirely sure why Haneke would want to remake the film (other than to expose it to a broader audience with prettier leads). People have suggest that an American version is more appropriate as we have an insatiable appetite for screen violence and degradation, but the foreign version gets this point across just fine on it's own.


Harley said...

For the man's explanation of why he remade his own film:,,20179886_20179893_20183048,00.html

rebecca said...

great review. i love your blog.

"malfeasance for malfeasances sake"
or - because i know you'll get this from other things i've read on this blog - malfeasanceseses...sake.

brian said...

ugh. saw the english language version this evening. it is a draining picture to be sure. i am still reeling from the tension and horror of it all.