Tuesday, 26 January 2010

We're Not Up To Feature Film Length Yet.

Violence for the sake of violence. Fear for the sake of fear. Unexplained happenings causing tumult in the lives of otherwise normal people. It's like this is the mandate for the work of director Michael Haneke, or at least the two I've written up on here (Hidden being the other one.) Funny Games (the original, Austrian one, not the 2007 American reboot) precedes Hidden by a good eight years, and it does, visually at least, look rougher around the edges. What they have in common, however, is that desire to unsettle the audience, and to do it by simply not giving them any answers, any motivation.

Couple Anna (Susanne Lothar) and Georg (Ulrich Mühe) escape the city for a holiday at their lakeside home with their young son Schorschi (Stefan Clapczynski.) Shortly after arriving their neighbour appears with a friend, Paul (Arno Frisch), described as a friend, and they help to put out their boat. After they have left, Peter (Frank Giering), another friend of the neighbours, arrives, asking to borrow eggs. After breaking a few eggs and accidentally knocking Anna's phone into a sink full of water, tensions start to rise before Peter and Anna, and she asks him to leave. Paul arrives, trying to calm the situation whilst still getting the required eggs, and shortly Georg and Schorschi return.

The confrontation escalates, with Paul attacking Georg with a golf club before Paul and Peter take the family hostage, making a bet that the three family members won't survive until 9am the following morning. They torture the family, mostly psychologically but also physically, and manage to recover both Schorschi and Anna after they escape their clutches. When Schorschi escapes, before he is brought back to the family home, he tries to get help from the neighbours whom introduced them to Paul and Peter, but he finds that family dead also - and we begin to realise what's going on.

Paul and Peter don't seem to have any motivation for what they are doing, outside of the thrill and fun of simply doing it. Paul often breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience, something which is quite disconcerting but unbelievably chilling. Initially it was quite jarring, but I actually think it provides the audience with a bit of a relief from the grueling trauma that they are otherwise put through - it reminds you that the film is not, actually, real, and that this level of unadulterated evil is a fiction. Here at least. These motivationless psychopathic murderers aren't actually underneath your bed, but far away on the other side of a film camera, spawned from the curious yet creative mind of a German auteur.

Yes, Haneke is probably deranged. I think this movie confirms it. But he is brilliantly deranged, at least. Like the Marquis de Sade. The way he manages to keep you on the edge of your seat without ever really showing you anything... it's all word play and palpable tension. He doesn't even use music for it - from memory, the only music in the film is diegetic, except for a track over the opening and closing credits. It's silence, light and exceptional performances from all involved.

I'm kind of curious to see the US version now, which he also directed, just to see what it's like. The original is so damned good, I don't know why you'd want to redo it, but hey. This one is another 4.5 star Haneke work.

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