Splatter Time Fun Fest 2011 travels to Germany, and I get to take in my first film from an infamous director!
Written By: Michael Haneke
Directed By: Michael Haneke
I’ve thought a lot about Funny Games and I’m still not sure if I can adequately express how I feel. I wasn’t revolted like many people, nor did I find Michael Haneke’s machinations too clever for their own good. I was, for the most part, enthralled by Funny Games. Herr Haneke captivated me with a horror tale and a meta exercise, and he entertained me with a film that almost flawlessly combined both elements. Funny Games isn’t a flabby film, it isn’t a cheap film, it isn’t an aimless film. What kind of film is Funny Games?
I don’t know if there is an easy answer to the proposed question. Well, that’s not true, there are easy answers, I just find them to be very lazy. It would be very easy for me to label Funny Games as an exercise in fetishistic violence. I could just as easily declare that Funny Games is torture porn, or that Herr Haneke has crafted a film that is about simple shocks and nothing else. The problem is that I don’t believe any of that narrow viewpoint malarkey. Funny Games has facets of those elements, but it does interesting things with those facets. Are you really watching what many, myself included, have decried as torture porn if the audience is never shown any of the capitulating violence? Is Funny Games really trying to be shocking when in reality it tells a tale that is easily deciphered? Is Herr Haneke being fetishistic with the way he presents his violence when there is a clear reason behind said presentation?
The above exercise in questioning should let you in on how deep I find Funny Games to be. Herr Haneke is interested in asking questions of his audience. He’s interested in their reactions to violence, both what they see and what they do not see. He’s interested in how audiences will react to killers who are rather plain and a movie that isn’t afraid to randomly break the fourth wall. Herr Haneke isn’t afraid to challenge his audience and this creates a very rewarding experience for the audience.
Very early on in Funny Games I remarked to my wife that I was surprised that the violence had, up to that point, been unseen. As Funny Games progressed I further remarked that I was convinced Herr Haneke was making a statement about violence while also employing release denial filmmaking by not showing said violence (release denial does not imply that the violence is wanted, but rather the release from the tension that the showing of the violence provides is what was wanted). Then the shotgun scene came about and for a brief moment my entire image of the film was shattered. Just as I was rethinking the entire film Herr Haneke broke the fourth wall yet again and had a character physically rewind the film. It was at that moment that I knew I was watching a film with a certain amount of heft behind it. By rewinding the film Herr Haneke erased what I had just borne witness to and denied me the release of a heroic, but violent moment. Funny Games is not a movie with any easy answers, and Herr Haneke is not a director willing to give his audience easy escape routes.
At the same time that Funny Games is being hefty in its meta exercises, it is also functioning as a rather tense horror movie. It takes a special kind of director to play out an exercise like Herr Haneke does while also creating a threadbare story that works. A large reason for the success of Funny Games beyond its proclivities in the meta realm is Herr Haneke’s willingness to trust his actors. He’s willing to trust Arno Frisch to be engaging, charming, and utterly horrific. He trusts Susanne Lothar to be big and loud in all the right places. Just as he trusts Ulrich Mühe to never be anything but staid and silent. Herr Haneke trusts his audience to accept the horror and the exercise, his trust earns Funny Games much of the praise I am bestowing upon the film.
Those who are willing to accept the horror and the exercise are in for a special treat when they watch Funny Games. It’s beautiful film in its starkness, and a complete film in the way it handles its subject matter, its forays into meta machinations, and its existence as a horror film. Funny Games is the first film I have seen from Michael Haneke, but I can guarantee it will not be the last.