Michael Haneke Trilogy Review
Michael Haneke came to global prominence thanks to last year’s hit on the art house circuit, the acclaimed drama/mystery Caché (AKA Hidden). This DVD box set celebrates some of the German writer/director’s earlier work which challenged the foundations of cinema, but was given little exposure outside of festivals or beyond specialist audiences. This excellent box set offers buyers the chance to see his hard-hitting and provocative side in the late 80s and early 90s.
The Seventh Continent (1989) is based on a true story Haneke read in a newspaper about a family that committed suicide. It is a challenging film as Haneke makes no effort to explain the malaise that is affecting father Georg (Dieter Berner), his wife Anna (Birgit Doll) or their daughter Eva (Leni Tanzer). He uses fixed shots that focus on activities such as breakfast, showering and other daily activities, often framing only the bodies of the family and cutting their heads from the picture. This creates an unnerving feeling throughout – I felt uncomfortable by the lack of cohesion in the narrative, yet drawn in by invitation to consider for myself the thoughts of the doomed family. Only a regular letter sent to Georg’s parents gives any clues to their inner thoughts and plans.
Although it appears to be the portrait of a drab family, The Seventh Continent has a powerful conclusion that is both liberating and a compounding of the often distressing banality of their lives. If, after watching this film, someone tells you they are moving to Australia, you may well be concerned for their welfare. To say anymore would be unfair… An interview with Haneke is an added bonus here as it explains his intentions when making the movie, and an insight into its impact.
Benny’s Video (1992) is a disturbing tale of a 13-year-old boy called Benny (Arno Frisch) who is so obsessed by videoing the world: his room is like a production studio. After filming the slaughter of a pig and exposure to violent films, Benny tapes himself killing a young girl (Ingrid Stassner). When his parents discover what has happened, they must face up to the prospect of covering up the murder or having their child incarcerated. Like The Seventh Continent, Haneke gives little insight into the exact thoughts of Benny, but it is a compelling tale of guilt and violence all the same. A chilling movie made all the more relevant following the well-documented American high school shootings such as that of Columbine, which was the subject of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003).
The final film of this trilogy, 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), follows the bleak outlook of the other two. At the beginning inter-titles tell us that Maximilian B. (Lukas Miko) will go armed into a bank, shoot a few people and then himself. What follows is a flashback study of the characters affected by his actions. Interspersed by news reports covering violence around the world and even the Michael Jackson molestation charges of the time, Haneke again serves up an unremitting piece of cinema that will not be to everyone’s taste.
The Michael Haneke trilogy is neither accessible to all, nor as effective as Hidden in terms of individual impact. Its harsh portrayals may be a little too rough for many, however, if you liked Hidden and would like to experience more of this impressive writer/director’s body of work, this three DVD collection is sure to fascinate.
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