The Michael Haneke Trilogy

The Michael Haneke Trilogy

****

Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

The Seventh Continent

Inspired by events the filmmaker read about in a newspaper, The Seventh Continent presents a a series of quotidian activities and incidents from the lives of an outwardly successful and normal Austrian bourgeois family - engineer Georg (Dieter Berner), optician Anna (Birgit Doll) and their young daughter Eva (Leni Tanzer) - who decide to go to Australia, hitherto represented via utopian touristic imagery, and there kill themselves.

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Divided into three years/chapters and narrated in Haneke's characteristic fragmentary, elliptical manner the film is also noteworthy for his absolute refusal of conventional audience identification techniques, denying us the face in particular in lieu of compositions that decapitate the protagonists and Bressonian close-ups of hands, feet and (other) objects.

The result is a disquietingly familiar yet strange world and, perhaps, a shattering indictment of contemporary society. The question mark is whether, perhaps, Haneke's methods here might actually have proven too alienating and thereby to ironically mirror the very culture of non-communication and emotional deadness he seeks to critique.

Benny's Video

Perhaps in response to this, Haneke's next film, is considerably more accessible. Nevertheless Benny's Video again challenges the viewer from the outset, as we are presented with reality footage of a pig being killed with a bolt-gun; footage that our teenage protagonist - Arno Fritsch, later seen in Funny Games - watches obsessively and which, through repeated play, rewind and replay, appears to have affected his grasp on reality.

Left alone one weekend by his parents, Benny visits the video shop and invites a girl he has often seen there back to the house. Inspired by the video, he kills her. While horrifying enough, it is the reaction of his parents that is truly terrifying.

71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance

Again a more formally challenging film, 71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance opens as it closes, with the news story of a student, Maximilian B (Lukas Miko), shooting up a bank before turning the gun on himself at the start replaced by the 'actual' event at the end.

In between we get the remainder of the fragments of the title, as a succession of vignettes - or montage of miniatures, to use a favoured New German Cinema term - from the lives of the student and those he fatally interacts with provide yet another condemnation of contemporary Austrian life as they suggest exactly why Herr B. should have run amok. (The German title of the film used the word, serving to highlight the connection with Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1970 film Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? about a respectable bourgeois who finally loses it; while the presence of a Romanian orphan seems to prefigure the director's own Code Unknown).

If there's a problem with both films, deeply moral as they are and about as far away as you can get from mainstream cinema violence, it is that the horrors they represent cannot ultimately match those of the real world they invoke, such that Bosnia, Somalia and the like are perhaps reduced to something approaching background noise. It is maybe an accurate representation - turn off, tune out - but again one that gives little grounds for optimism. Then again, one suspects Haneke is too much of a negative dialectician at heart for that.

Reviewed on: 03 Jan 2007
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The Michael Haneke Trilogy packshot
Collection of films by Michael Haneke, featuring The Seventh Continent, Benny's Video and 71 Fragments Of A Chronology of Chance.
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