Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Funny Games Double Feature

Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 1997) [7]
This films should be considered as a deconstructive instrument more than a film. The plot and characterization are not elaborate, they're just there to serve as the vehicle for Haneke's ideas. Addressing the casual association violence has with violence, Funny Games takes the viewer into completely uncomfortable territory by using violence that is much more psychologically jarring that a standard blow-em-up action picture. It is incredibly unsettling and it achieves its objective not just through its violence but through the Brechtian tactics of breaking down the fourth wall. The killers take time to address the viewer and address the notion of reality and the film world, of the viewers' allegiances, and what is and should be acceptable in film violence.
To back up a bit, the plot of the film focuses on a bourgeoisie Austrian family heading out to their lake house for a vacation. Once there, two young men meet them and play out violent, sadistic acts on the family. These are not in the grotesque vein of the Saw and Hostel-style torture porn but a much more psychological violence that to me is much more effective. It raises the question of why those horror films and their explicit violence are nothing noteworthy but the relatively tame acts of these two in this film is much more horrifying in its own way. That is one of the themes Haneke is addressing here, pushing boundaries and tolerance. The film is meant solely to provoke a reaction, one of disgust that most violence in other American cinema no longer does. It does this by having the characters address the viewer, letting them know that they have an interest in these characters' well-being. The killers are also smart enough to realize that you as the viewer are going to side with the family, and hope they can somehow escape the situation. That what makes the film effective but what also makes it practically unlikable. You want these characters to escape but at the same time, it's in the back of your mind that it's practically impossible. Haneke gives the characters and the viewer glimmers of hope but they eventually collapse.
Haneke's mastery of the shots in the film make it effective without actually showing that much explicit violence. It's moments like the extended shot of the living room after one violent episode that do much more in getting inside the mind than any act of violence. The film is a series of brutal moments after the next but that's its aim and it exceeds despite any reservations about story or content.

Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 2008) [6]
This is essentially a shot by shot remake of the original, only this time starring more American friendly names like Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. It works about the same as the original but it begs the question why remake it in the first place. In fact, I prefer the more cold, reserved European aesthetics of the original in its impact. Maybe since Haneke is addressing the American fascination with film violence, making the film a little bit more palatable for an American audience makes sense. That doesn't explain why a lot of critical reviews barely mention the original as if this was some brand new film and the original can be discounted. It doesn't make any sense.

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