Magazine article American Cinematographer

Funny Games

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Funny Games

Article excerpt

Funny Games (1997) 1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced) Stereo Kino Video, $29.95

If you're the sort of moviegoer who has a lurid fascination for violent films, Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke has a stern lecture in store for you in Funny Games.

The film begins innocently enough, as an SUV carrying a wellheeled married couple and their young son snakes through the Austrian countryside to a perfect lakefront summer home. But in the first of many blindside hits, this placid image is overlaid with atonal, downright evil music (composed by avant-garde musician John Zorn) that bluntly portends the severity of the next 104 minutes. It's almost as though Haneke, one of contemporary cinema's most cunning tacticians, is sending out a warning to the viewer.

Upon settling into the house, the family is visited by two clean-cut young men (Arno Frisch and Frank Giering) who are clad in tennis whites and, curiously, white gloves. After asking to borrow a few eggs on behalf of some neighbors, the men proceed to terrorize the family psychologically and physically, for no apparent reason beyond their own amusement. What makes the film most unsettling is the weird disconnect between the jauntiness and good cheer of the assailants, who could be characters in a light comedy, and the incredibly convincing terror of the family members. Holding these two diametrically opposing tones together is Haneke's icy directorial precision. Agonizingly long takes, judicious edits, and a neutral visual perspective offer the viewer no relief from the family's ordeal, while the soft-lit, almost antiseptic look of the cinematography by Jiirgen Jurges, BVK augments the palpable unease. (Unfortunately, Jurges' work has been given short shrift in this soft, muddy transfer.) Unlike a "conventionally entertaining" horror movie or thriller - a concept that must make Haneke break out in hives most of Funny Games transpires in bright, unforgiving light while the actual violence occurs mostly offscreen.

As the film goes on, the viewer comes to realize he is being toyed with as cruelly as the family onscreen. The two assailants wink at the camera, directly address the viewer, and, in one particularly shocking moment, use a TV remote control to rewind the action when one of the family members unexpectedly turns the tables on them. By breaking down the fourth wall, Haneke aims to make the audience complicit in the violence by directly confronting us: why, he asks, would you want to watch this? At one point, the mother (Susanne Lothar) asks one of the interlopers why he doesn't simply kill them, as it's clear that the proceedings will not have a happy ending. …

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