Film review: Funny Games (U.S.)

Funny Games (U.S.)
2007
Celluloid Dreams, Tartan Films, Film4 Productions

STARRING Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart, Boyd Gaines, Siobhan Fallon
WRITTEN BY Michael Haneke
PRODUCED BY Hamish McAlpine, Christian Baute, Chris Coen, Andro Steinborn, Naomi Watts
DIRECTED BY Michael Haneke

SHOT BY Darius Khondji
EDITED BY Monika Willi
DISTRIBUTED BY Warner Independent Pictures

Screened 2008-03-04

‘Funny Games’, a shot-for-shot remake of Michael Haneke’s Austrian 1997 film, is the sort of film that really shouldn’t be spoiled, so I’ll simply sum it up by saying that two young imps (Pitt and Corbett, who are decidedly more adorable than their Austrian counterparts) thrust themselves into the lives of a family (Watts and Roth), and force upon the family their own unique brand of entertainment. As for the product itself, it is a very solid piece of filmmaking from all angles; visually exacting, with strong performances from all parties (particularly enjoyable from the cruel duo), though Watts… Watts tries her darnedest, and we appreciate that. I daresay that Watts needs to take it one step further and lose herself in a role, because all I tend to see is a person who is trying sooooo hard.

Haneke clearly doesn’t believe that the purpose of art is entertainment, or a celebration of human accomplishment and emotion, or perhaps an expression of love – for Haneke, a film is a lesson, though really more like a performance piece. Basically, Haneke’s method of artistic expression is to walk up to you and resolutely slap you in the face, just to demonstrate to yourself how you will react. Then he steps back, grins and mutters, “There, now wasn’t that edifying?” His work can be construed as deeply nihilistic, pessimistic, and is always discomforting. The purpose of ‘Games’ is to probe the distinction between fiction and reality, and more specifically, to test our own reactions to violence.

I cannot, in good conscience, compliment Haneke without mentioning these detriments. So, conversely, the film is not without its pleasures and is actually quite interesting and, if you know what you’re getting into, often quite funny (now that I’ve seen both versions of ‘Funny Games,’ I view it as a comedy, albeit a sick and rather dry one). Haneke is a terrifically talented filmmaker – which makes it more of a shame that his interest in story is dwarfed by his agenda, namely that of driving his point home – into you, like a railroad spike. Talent notwithstanding, this pretty much undisputibly makes Haneke, the man, somewhat monstruous. If you can get past that – if you want to – then his films become enjoyable on a different level. The catch is that you have to be in on the joke. In regards to violence, the force of the aggressor that disrupts the peaceful man will always be be the louder, more noticeable thing. It is on this level that Haneke is to be regarded: as a force that cannot be denied.

written by David Ashley

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