Film: It's a Funny Old Game, Watching Blood and Gore ; Matthew Sweet Is Confused about Screen Violence. Director Michael Haneke Beat Some Sense into Him
Sweet, Matthew, The Independent (London, England)
Watch Juliette Binoche's performance in Chocolat, and you'd think she really believed that human misery could be assuaged with a benevolent smile and a couple of packets of praline cracknel. So effectively did she embody that film's self-congratulatory message, that it felt as if she was renouncing the work upon which her reputation was founded; waving goodbye to the sophistications of Rendez-vous (1985) and Three Colours: Blue (1993) for roles slightly less complex than the Cadbury's Caramel bunny. Thanks, however, to Michael Haneke - an Austrian director celebrated on the mainland but fairly obscure on these shores - Binoche has got back some of her arthouse cred. In Haneke's Code Unknown, she does difficult stuff with virtuoso ease. And the film - which opens with a Parisian boy casually tossing a sweetie wrapper at a young Romanian woman begging in a shop doorway - is a world away from the anodyne smugness of Chocolat.
So who is her saviour, and why have you barely heard of him? Michael Haneke has been making movies for a quarter of a century, but before Code Unknown, his only film to secure a distribution deal in Britain was Funny Games (1997) - a brilliant, but almost unwatchably horrible narrative about a pair of happy-go-lucky sadists who terrorise a family of bourgeois Austrian holiday makers. Highlights of his back catalogue include Benny's Video (1992), the story of a couple who discover that their 14-year-old son has videotaped himself murdering a friend, and can't decide whether to turn him over to the police or help him conceal his crime; and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), a portmanteau film tracing the lives of a gaggle of people killed in a random shooting incident. "My themes remain the same," he tells me, with a diffident shrug. "The self-reflexive nature of cinema. The coldness of consumer society. Xenophobia. The difficulties of communication between people. The violence in our culture."
In Binoche, the director found a collaborator who shared many of these interests and anxieties. All five are legible in Code Unknown which follows the experiences of an actress about to break into movies (Binoche), a taxi driver returning to his African homeland (Djibril Kouyate ), and a young Romanian woman (Luminita Gheorghiu) to relate a fragmented narrative about a divided continent. Although Code Unknown suggests that Europe is a cacophonous Babel of conflicting voices and attitudes, Haneke and his star clearly speak the same language. "Films are a wonderful tool to communicate," declares Binoche, in that freewheeling, analogy-strewn way that has made her a regular in Private Eye's Luvvies column. "They're like trampolines on which you can bounce ideas. But they're very dangerous, too. They're like guns, sometimes. You can use them to get money from people. It's a power thing. And the American way of selling movies is like a battle. Maybe it's a little pretentious, but when I go to Cambodia and see film posters of men with guns, I feel like I am part of an industry that is helping violence."
It was violence - or, more specifically, the way that violence was treated in a particular sequence in Funny Games - that inspired Binoche to pick up the phone and beg for a part in Haneke's next movie. "Do you remember it?" she asks. If you've seen the …
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Publication information: Article title: Film: It's a Funny Old Game, Watching Blood and Gore ; Matthew Sweet Is Confused about Screen Violence. Director Michael Haneke Beat Some Sense into Him. Contributors: Sweet, Matthew - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: May 13, 2001. Page number: 2. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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