At the onset, I must say that while I watched Funny Games, I found myself victim of two lousy habits I’ve developed while watching films over the years. One, never reading on a movie before watching it. And this means a clean zilch that makes me vulnerable to what is to come, often lending to the clubbed-on-the-head effects that leave me reeling for some time. Secondly, failing to distinguish between cinematic realism and fiction, especially at times when a really good movie drains me of all emotional energy to rollback and clarify the pain and agony that goes through me simply out of timid submission to a storyteller’s magic, into a movie-lover’s cinematic orgasm.
Both these habits have proved helpful in the past, especially at times when movies get so affecting, you’re impassioned by it, ready to tear down any cynicism that is brought before it. Not this time, Michael Haneke caught me with my pants down in this original 1997 German production. (remade by the man himself in 2008). I do agree that I should have taken precautions and seen the fine print in the wiki page that says “experimental film”, “sadistic violence”. To be truthful, I was lured by the title of the movie thinking that it is what the title literally means, call me stupid.
This was what awaited me: I shall refrain from providing any details about the simple plot, as that is precisely where the movie is at it’s frailest best:
Funny Games; to clarify, is a movie that’s as powerfully affecting as Gaspar Nòe’s Irreversible and maybe even Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. It spurns your spirit, by defeating your conscience, and questioning your emotional stamina. Though what I write here might sound negatively of the movie and especially it’s director it’s not because I hate him now, it’s because I’m genuinely scared of his potential after this. Having watched only The White Ribbon and Cachè before, I was indeed expecting some spooky moments, but not a whole different Genre-altering piece of film-making, one that transcends mere horror and adds extra dollops of terror in heart-pounding proportions, making us feel oppressed but not repulsed.
Haneke spits venom right at the very first opening aerial shot, where beautiful chamber music flowing through Cavalleri, Handel and Mozart in the background mercilessly cut into blast-beat grindcore metal while the credits roll, while all that we see is a happy family heading for a truly relaxing vacation. We’re shown scenes that seem ordinary at first: scenes that speak volumes of horror in our recollections later on. The late Urlich Mühe and Susanne Lothar are possibly the most terrified-looking on-screen couple that I’ve ever seen. Frank Giering plays a tubby, but dangerous young man, his appearance belying every bit of the twisted freak his character morphs into. And there’s 22 year old Arno Frisch who chills your jaw bone, and produces bowel movements with his calm demeanor. Haneke toys with his viewers by breaking the fourth wall several times and making Frisch address the audience, acknowledging us, even challenging us. He scoffs at us and even bets with us! Rewinding scenes with a remote control to change outcomes, stressing the need for a “feature-film” time-length and disproving the viewer’s predictions…Wow!
Based on my two previous experiences with Haneke, I must say he’s been developing his own style all along. Though his might be seen as similar to Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man) and Béla Tarr (Satantango), the Haneke difference occurs in the viewer’s mind usually after several tens of seconds into every frame. You’re looking at something ordinary, something that shouldn’t BE ordinary; something is seriously wrong with the static movement (or non-movement) that shouldn’t be this ordinary. And you conceive a whole scene that’s happening off screen without even looking at what is happening! That’s precisely when your imagination turns into the devil and creates a custom-made horror enactment out of thin air, one that could be yours and yours exclusively, to freak you out. It could be easy (I daresay) for some filmmakers to try and give the audience a dozen characters, a situation, a plot and let them figure out what it could look like. But Haneke goes further. He cooly leaves even the most defining moments of the plot in our hands and leaves us guessing (the kitchen scene where Paul calmly continues spreading jam and butter on a piece of bread, while the silence is broken with deafening gunshots, shouts and screams in the background literally tore me apart in frustration) Later when we know what has actually happened, it’s feels almost as if the silky-haired, bespectacled Vienna college professor apparates in front of us and smirks “I bet you never came up with THAT, eh!”. Sicko!
I’m really in half a mind to not watch the 2008 U.S remake starring Naomi Watts, Michael Pitt and Tim Roth. Somehow, I love Naomi too much to see her in such a vulnerable character that sweats out so much desperation. (Susanne Lothar had to cry so much, sometimes for more than 20 minutes before Haneke decides to start shooting. This being done in several takes, sometimes more than twenty-five) Someone here needs to prove me wrong. Sadist as it may seem, Haneke explains his true intentions in this interview
Haneke’s nomination this year seems quite overdue. His golden palm winning The White Ribbon focused more on his strength as a picture-perfect cinematographer, while still not leaving us short of breath on the spooky side too. Cannes finally had to bestow the honor that’s eluded him four times before, a journey that began with Funny Games in 1997. If Haneke wins the oscar this year, I think this would be the first time a film would win the Golden Globes, Golden Palm and the Oscar together. No hard feelings to Jacques Audiard (Un Prophete) and the rest of the nominees, but I think the old man deserves an honor worthy of his brilliance. It came as a big surprise when I found a classic such as this one left un-reviewed here on PFC.
By Fazil (at PassionForCinema.com)
To read the original article, click here.
This post is an entry to the Reel-Life Bloggers contest organized by wogma.com and reviewgang.com