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 “It’s the only film I’ve made to provoke viewers.” Michael Haneke, director.

Funny Games

Feature


Georg and Anna are going away for a holiday at their house in the country with their son, Georg Junior. They are hoping for a pleasant time with friends, playing golf and taking their boat out on the lake. Their plans are scuppered by a pair of young men who impose themselves on the family and turn out to be nowhere near as friendly as they first appeared.

The film opens with the family driving into the country, playing a game of guessing which opera CD they have put in the player. This scene is then overlaid with heavy metal music during the opening credits that contrasts with the happy middle-class characters. The tension builds slowly throughout the opening act, with the director seeking to make the viewer as uncomfortable as the family who are on the receiving end of the odd behaviour by the two boys who are introduced as friends of their holiday neighbours.

In a master class of how to be annoying, one of the boys visits the wife to ask for some eggs, then proceeds to set the tone to ‘awkward’ and initiate a plot device that means if things get out of hand, the family can’t call for help. When the second boy arrives, it is clear that the pair do not follow the same set of social norms as most people and the situation quickly escalates to violence.

Funny Games
The violence inflicted on the family in Funny Games is extreme and the audience are forced to endure the torturous night with the boys along with them with the growing suspicion that it may not end in typical Hollywood fashion. That said, a lot of the action occurs off-screen (either in another room or just out of shot) and I found this technique to be more effective because it leaves you wondering what exactly happened and who it happened to.

Funny Games is a home invasion movie with a difference. Not only are the characters held hostage and tormented by their aggressors, but there is (literally) a knowing wink to the audience. The director admits during the DVD interview that he wanted to make the viewer an accomplice to the perpetrators. The film makes for very uncomfortable viewing because all the time you are rooting for the family to make it through the film alive and there are also moments when you are intentionally taken out of the film. These moments do not provide any real respite—all you will do is switch from biting your nails to scratching your head.

Funny Games
Haneke emphasises the point that the film is a construct on many occasions. As with his latest film Hidden, this is his world and he can do whatever he wants with it. If you don't like it, that's your problem. He will also manipulate you, the viewer, however he wants, then just when you think you know what’s going on he’ll pull the rug from under you and change the whole film around. The perfect example of this (within both this film and Haneke’s work as a whole) is the notorious ‘rewind’ scene. I won’t give the details away because it is a key moment and comes near the end of the film but it is the moment when the viewer will either succumb to the arrogant charms of the Austrian director or scream in frustration at his techniques.

Michael Haneke is undoubtedly an auteur. He has a specific style of filmmaking and a theme of choice, which appears to be the deconstruction of the bourgeois family unit. He takes a group of people with apparently happy lives and throws them into a situation where they must act out of character so we can see how they will react. In this case the family home is invaded and they have nowhere to run. Haneke takes it to another level by almost invading the home himself. I got the feeling that Paul, the more intelligent of the boys, is the personification of the director, with his knowing glances to the camera and ability to manipulate the proceedings.

Funny Games is a difficult film to watch, more so than Hidden, due to both the violent nature of the story and the way in which the story is told. However, as an exercise in audience manipulation and a commentary on the audience’s attitudes to screen violence, this is an important film and it will be interesting to see how Haneke translates it to his English language remake, due in 2007.

Funny Games

Video


Previously released by Tartan Video with a 1.85:1 non-anamorphic picture, this time the print has been remastered and we get an anamorphic print with the same aspect ratio. I have to say I haven’t seen watched the previous release but I’m glad I didn’t. While not unwatchable, the remastered print does contain small scratches and artefacts. The colours look slightly washed-out and the overall picture lacks detail, particularly in long shots, but seeing as the film mostly uses close-up and medium shots, it’s not a complete disaster.

Audio


From an audio perspective, the film doesn’t open well. The opera music that should sound grand and imposing sounds a little muffled and fuzzy. After the opening scene, there is only one more scene with music as the film is dialogue-driven but some crackling is still audible during the quiet moments. All in all, the soundtrack is at about the same standard as the video quality—not great but gets away with it. A 5.1 soundtrack would provide a much more rewarding viewing experience, especially when there is action off-screen, but I think there would be a lot more remastering and production work involved to bring us full directional sound on this title.

Extras


There is only one extra of note, which is the interview with the director. From the same session as the interview on the Hidden DVD, it follows the same pattern, with Haneke talking about key scenes and his intentions for the film. He seems to enjoy irritating the audience and showing us how clever he is. I’m sure he’s a very good lecturer on film theory but I’d hate to have him round for dinner.

We also have the theatrical trailers for Funny Games and other Tartan Video releases: Guy X, Primer, The Proposition and Battle In Heaven. The DVD case mentions the inclusion of film notes from Jonathan Romney, which I can only assume will be printed on an insert that wasn’t included with the screener copy I watched.

Funny Games

Overall


For those of you who have picked up Hidden since its release and enjoyed it, I would recommend getting your hands on a copy of Funny Games. It is a tightly constructed thriller with Haneke’s trademark smug direction. However, bear in mind that the DVD does not really have the features or presentation quality to justify its ‘Special Edition’ tag. For those of you who want an enjoyable popcorn thriller, steer well clear.


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