Funny Games

Director: Michael Haneke

With this brilliant film, Austrian director Michael Haneke takes the themes of his earlier work several steps further and is poised to reach a much wider audience. Haneke’s concern is with our response to depictions of violence, and in the past he has explored the subject with a rigorous formalism. With the new film he has changed tack by taking on the American thriller genre and subjecting it to some radical artistic manipulations. The results make for a shocking but entirely serious and responsible treatment of a tricky subject.
Funny Games begins with a middle-class couple and their son arriving at a lakeside holiday home. The house is invaded by two strange yet polite young men who turn out to be sadistic, homicidal psychopaths. Despite a deliberate avoidance of graphic detail, the ensuing violence is horrific, as the criminals play games of cat and mouse with the terrified family. Refusing to provide any pat psychological explanations, Haneke not only explores the emotional and physical effects of violence but interrogates his audience’s motives in consuming violent stories. The torturers make constant asides to the audience, challenging our resonses and motivations. The film’s most ostentatious conceit follows a brief moment when one of the victims temporarily gets the upper hand. Momentarily panicked, the torturer grabs the TV remote control and simply ‘rewinds’ the sequence of events to rectify the damage.
Given Haneke’s approach of knowingly manipulating his audience’s expectations, it’s no surprise that Funny Games has elicited some very critical responses. Yet this is surely one of the most radical European films since Pasolini’s Salo, and like that work it is at times barely watchable.

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