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Three Important Films by Michael Haneke

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message 1: by Alex DeLarge (last edited Sep 03, 2008 10:12AM) (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Michael Haneke is one of my favorite living directors and his films are sometimes difficult to comprehend on first viewing. The emotional impact on the audience can be quite devastating and his films beg to be revisited. Well, here are three reviews though he's directed many more: I'm working on the others. I hope my insight at least makes you interested in a film that you would otherwise have missed. You may not like these films...but you will never forget them.

CODE UNKNOWN: INCOMPLETE TALES OF SEVERAL JOURNIES (2000) Language is the secret code, a barrier to meaningful expression as superficial and mundane words are unable to adequately translate abstract thoughts. We are each cornered in our own world…alone and afraid. We strive to make contact with others, to become part of something larger than ourselves, but soon realize the limits to our human condition. In CODE UNKNOWN, words carry complex and multiple definitions and are burdensome; they differentiate cultures and ideologies and often create schism more that communion. Michael Haneke guides us through several incomplete journeys, a sputtering peregrination of human drama: an actress, her narcissistic boyfriend, his younger brother, an illegal immigrant, and a young black man, whose lives periodically interconnect. Haneke deconstructs our expectations and tells their stories in brief moments, often abruptly cutting to a black screen in the midst of a conversation. He also doesn’t allow insight or special privileged knowledge into their trauma or explanation…if any. We are left with momentary vignettes that cross cut, building suspense towards some final conclusion that frustratingly never materialize. He has captured pure moments of individual truth by breaking with standard narrative structure: this is genuine avant-garde cinema! Though character introductions are terse we understand their predicaments through cinematic composition: the banal dialogue conveys nothing while the visuals transmit empathy and compassion. CODE UNKNOWN can be understood without sound; like the deaf children that bookends the film, our other senses can become heightened and attuned to the world around us. It’s our choice if it’s for the better…or worse. (B+)

CACHE (2005) A film that is sure to frustrate many viewers unfamiliar with Michael Haneke's work because the story is full of unanswered questions and purposeful misdirection. Someone is secretly filming George and Ann Laurant and leaving video tapes on their doorstep. Soon violent childlike drawings accompany the videos and the couple is scared and perplexed. They began to turn their anger upon themselves as their relationship dissolves. George dreams of an incident in his childhood and thinks he may have solved the puzzle but he follows the leads to a literal dead end. The film delivers excruciating tension and fails to deliver us an ultimate answer. Instead we are left to ponder their relationship and the secrets that they've been hiding from each other. We get a voyeuristic glimpse into their already dysfunctional marriage that had problems long before the videos began showing up. Haneke rarely gives us the clues to solve the mysteries let alone any trite answers to his films. He breaks with convention and leads us down a perceptually wrong path which is ultimately the only one that matters. We are left alone to discover the hidden Truth. (A)

FUNNY GAMES (2007) The MPAA rated this film R for Terror, Violence and Some Language…don’t worry about the Language. This seems to be a shot-by-shot remake of his 1997 film: I suppose he wanted to make the story accessible to American Audiences by casting Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. The plot is fairly basic: two young punks kidnap a family and hold them hostage in their summer cabin. They begin to play sadistic games with these totally innocent victims until the film's rewind anti-climax. Why is this movie sadistic and frustrating when the body count in DARK KNIGHT is hundreds higher? Could it have something to do with us, the audience? There is very little on-screen violence as the camera holds on close-ups while we hear the tortured screams and shotgun blasts. Somehow, this makes the ordeal even worse. There is a trick to FUNNY GAMES and it’s this: Haneke manipulates the audience into victim blaming. Every single person who watches this film exclaims that it would not happen to him or her; they would run away, call for help, or get a weapon and fight back. He even sets up a few scenarios to foster this belief. He wants to incite the audience into an emotional backlash against George and Ann. As the sadism progresses we begin to feel that they somehow deserve what’s coming to them for being so stupid to put themselves in a helpless situation. I speak from professional experience: most people blame crime victims. How many times have I heard, “If she was being raped, why didn’t she scream?” Too many. It’s no mistake that the murderers are young, good looking intelligent young men; Haneke manipulates us into liking them (and here’s the trick) at the victim’s expense. Once we the audience imagine our own heroic actions and escape, we cease to empathize with the true victims and become the sadists. I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. (B)

Here's my review of the original film written a few years ago. It's interesting to see how a second viewing actually altered my opinion.

FUNNY GAMES (1997) I believe Michael Haneke made this film just to brutalize his audience in order to tear down our preconceived notions of justice, fairness, and that old axiom that everything will be alright when the bad guys are caught and the innocent survive. None of that happens in this film. Haneke toys with our emotions and has us on the hook; he reels us in and then lets the line play out a bit, we get our hopes up that things are going to be OK, then a good stiff pull sinks the barbed hook in even deeper...and there's no escape. Unless you just turn of the film and try to forget. The plot is fairly basic: two young punks kidnap a family and hold them hostage in their summer cabin. They begin to play sadistic games with these totally innocent victims until the film's rewind anti-climax. I recommend that you watch this film but don't blame me if it turns your stomach. (B-)

If you are a member of NetFlix, look me up because I have the same username and avatar that you see in Goodreads. I am in the top 200 reviewers and also post on my blog. I do not make money writing about film, this is my passion, my love, my hobby. I believe Art is the only true expression: novels, films, paintings, poetry,...these things deconstruct the world around us and bring us closer to life. And death.

message 2: by Meg (new)

Meg (megvt) | 362 comments Thanx for these, I haven't seen any of them and will certainly put them on my queue in netflix.

message 3: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 469 comments I havent seen any of these films, but I am curious to check them out.

message 4: by [deleted user] (new)


I just watched The Seventh Continent tonight and finally feel that I am a full Haneke innitiate. The attention on objects within peoples' lives, and how those objects superveve on and supercede the lives they exist within is utterly uncanny and brilliant. He also is relentless in where he will look and how long he will look there. I was reminded (in a toned down fashion) of Bela Tarr with how long many of the shots were in this film and the inexplicable tension that arises from such lengthy shots.

Cache seems to be the one that people are most drawn to and, though I didn't really like The Piano Teacher the first time I saw it, I'm very willing to give it another chance now that I feel I understand his perspective within film.

Thanks for the recommendations!

message 5: by Amy (new)

Amy | 58 comments Hey Alex - I always enjoy reading your reviews. RE your review of Cache, though, I'm wondering what you mean by Ann's hiding of secrets - to me, George is the one hiding something, and Ann is the one who is frustrated by him not opening up about it. The movie, to me, had a lot to do with what George had done in the past and it popping up again when he least expected it to, and his absolute burial of any remorse - the marriage is one mirror showing the disintegration of George's ordered world.

My thoughts...

message 6: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10722 comments Yeah, Alex - thanks for keeping us informed. Keep it coming. I haven't seen Funny Games, but have seen the other two. My verdict is still out on him. I like a lot of what he's up to. I liked Code perhaps a bit more than Cache, although it catches you by surprise.

And, I agree with Amy on the George - Ann duad...well stated.

message 7: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Agree Amy, it's George who's emotionally hidden. But we all keep secrets...

Mike, glad you liked SEVENTH CONTINENT; Haneke gets us close to the characters (physically, not emotionally) without passing judgement. When the ending happens it is a brutal surprise. I'm in the process of re-watching his entire catalogue and will write reviews. Thank you all for reading my impressions. :)

message 8: by Viviana (new)

Viviana | 105 comments Alex, just one question,Is CACHE with Binoche and Auteuil?
If so, I've seen it but sorry could not understand it and cannot say I liked it or not. remained with a "?" still wondering about the sense of it.
thanks to your explanations, I've got it a bit better now.
If it's not the movie I believe, apologize for popping in..

message 9: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Hi Viviana, yes that's the one:) Hope you check it out a second time in the near future; you may have a different approach because it's really not a "mystery"'s a character study.

message 10: by Matt (new)

Matt | 218 comments I think that all three of these films are worth watching if you are serious about film.

Otherwise Cache/Hidden is the only must see.

Funny Games may have been cutting edge when released, but it hasnt aged well. It may predate the whole torture porn movement but seems somewhat heavy-handed and too clever by half at times.

I do have Benny's Video in my queue and am a fan of the Piano Teacher.

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Just finally watched Cache yesterday and found it very good. The camera work in his films is consistently hypnotic. Scenes where what appears to be a view into what is currently going on, only to be interrupted by the lines of a tape being fast-forwarded, sew seeds of doubt into whether what you are watching is ever really happening, or if it is something which has happened. He seems very in touch with the relationship between the camera and a subject and is constantly problematizing it (doing similar things in Funny Games) by either explicit or implicit breakages of the fourth wall.

The interview with him on the DVD is also hugely elucidating and a great way to better understand his, seemingly, completely original place in film. Really liked it.

message 12: by Ceci (new)

Ceci (cecialbiceleste) | 529 comments Loved Cache... and almost missed the final clues while the end credits rolled. Did you guys catch that inaudible conversation between two of the characters on the school stairs? An excellent movie.

Not seen any of the other movies, yet.

message 13: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Very interesting Cissy! I didn't catch the conversation but I interpreted the ending as being filmed by the unknown elliptical story that will haunt their lives forever.

message 14: by Ceci (new)

Ceci (cecialbiceleste) | 529 comments Alex, I think you'll need to see it again. It's a quiet and intense conversation that really shows things in a new light. But of course, the question remains as to who filmed the scene... or was the camera just left rolling on its own by one of the conversationalists. Anyhow, you're right, it's a very haunting film.

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

I didn't notice the conversation between the two until after watching the interview with Haneke...and even then I didn't "see" it, just knew it was there. I don't have a very big TV. But that shot, from its positioning and feel, gives the impression again of someone spying on the events. Watching it, I expected the tape to fast-forward at any second, but I think its that tension between whether or not what is happening is "live" or taped that Haneke is so in touch with during the whole film. Nothing feels concretely "real"--there is some tension put on the perspective at all times during the film.

message 16: by Ceci (new)

Ceci (cecialbiceleste) | 529 comments They're talking on the upper left side of the stairs, as far as I remember. I only noticed it because I was scanning the screen for something unusual. It's very easy to miss. The camera doesn't move at all, so it'd be very possible that one of them left it taping somewhere, hidden. Still, who knows? It's a very clever and disturbing movie.

message 17: by Mawgojzeta (new)

Mawgojzeta I had seen CACHE when it first came out to rental. I really enjoyed the film. At first, I did not feel too great about it, but the story finally sucked me in, and I found myself quite satisfied as it ended.

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