June 10, 2008

Funny Games


Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): **½

Michael Haneke's excruciating new Funny Games is a near shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 Austrian film. As with that one, the point of this new English-language film is elusive. Naomi Watts and Tim Roth star as a well-to-do couple that travels with their 12 year-old son (Devon Gearhart) to their summer lake house. Two seemingly polite fellows (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) wearing white gloves, shorts and polo shirts appear on their doorstep, first asking to borrow eggs and to try out some fancy golf clubs. But soon these visitors begin to torment the family, holding them hostage and threatening them. Eventually it's revealed that the two young thugs plan to murder their prey.

Every so often characters look at or talk to the camera, and a "rewind" gimmick is used late in the film that's better seen than described. Some may see Funny Games as a deconstruction of violent torture movies, but to my eyes it doesn't deconstruct anything. Haneke is himself too steeped in the violence and torture to step back from it or begin a discourse on it. (Brian De Palma, on the other hand, makes sadistic films, but he embraces the sadism as part of his own dark side. Haneke doesn't admit the connection.) Haneke deliberately plays on an audience's expectations for this type of genre: we demand and expect revenge, but he makes us regret doing so. He wants his film to affect us, but punishes us for being affected.

But other than that, it's not clear why anyone should subject him or herself to this film, or why a remake was necessary in the first place. It's possible that Haneke may wish to say something about aggression and passivity, in which case, there's one scene in his Code Unknown (2001), set on a subway train, that accomplishes this better than all of Funny Games. However, it goes without saying that Haneke is an exceptionally skilled filmmaker -- see the suspenseful Caché (2005) -- and his direction here is breathtaking. If you loved Hostel and are in the market for an exceedingly, diabolically well made torture film, you can't do much better than this.

For some reason, Warner Home Video's DVD looks a lot like something that might have been released in 1999. It has a pan-and-scan version on one side and a letterboxed version on the other, with no extras. (There are optional subtitles, and the pan-and-scan side comes with trailers.) I couldn't help thinking that this is some kind of sick joke, having something to do with the movie's themes, but I'm afraid I didn't get it.

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Posted by cphillips at June 10, 2008 10:23 AM
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