FUNNY GAMES A
Austria (108 mi) 1997 d: Michael Haneke
A gruesome, punishing, sadistic and brutal film about 2 merciless psychopaths, Peter and Paul, Frank Giering and Arno Frisch, who have nothing better to do than torture a middle class family, toying with them, ultimately murdering them for sport, hideously ugly to watch, but provocative to think about as the filmmaker is questioning the audience’s motives with direct asides to the audience, potentially changing the outcome, rewinding the film, and making it even more gruesome. No happy ending here, the enjoyment of this film begins only when it ends. No matter how many films you’ll see in a lifetime, this one is unforgettable.
Filmed by Fassbinder cameraman Jürgen Jürges, this is a film that wears the viewer down initially with the nauseatingly precise use of controlled tone and language, forcing a safe, comfortable wealthy white family at random to be victimized by a pair of overly apologetic, excessively polite home invaders in white gloves playing what they characterize as a “funny game” on them, a series of random acts of violence that couldn’t be more sadistically cruel. Designed to make the audience uncomfortable and expose the true nature of violence, Haneke uses a static camera, the most essential living room shot is held for ten minutes, also natural sound to heighten the tension and dread. The relentless psychological torture using words is only the introductory course, however, where in the original, as opposed to the American remake, the cruel preciseness of the Germanic language associated with demonic Nazi atrocities actually feeds into the horror, as eventually horrible brutality awaits each of them, as the invaders through punishment and pain require strict and absolute obedience, subject to a blitzkrieg assault of instant pain and horrors for violating the rules.
This is a completely unsettling and unnerving movie, reducing one’s nerve to mush, leaving one quivering with dread at having to endure this unique piece of what feels like live theater, where at brief moments, the audience is put on notice that this is just a game, no one really gets hurt, it’s only a film, as one of the invaders speaks directly to the audience, beginning with a wink, but eventually testing our willingness to be done with this nightmare, to simply put an end to it, no matter the cost, thinking for a single moment that we might be spared. But of course, the audience doesn’t really have a say, we are just being tested before the punishment continues even more viciously brutal than before. That’s all part of the game, which forces us to sit passively as we helplessly witness the insanity of unrelenting terror, where no one is rescued until the film is over. This film stands alone in the provocateur department, as Haneke is returning in spades to American theaters what it willingly exports around the world as mindless Hollywood entertainment. No one could possibly enjoy the experience without also hating being victimized by the game, but no one is likely to forget this film either, as it will remain imprinted in the deep recesses of our consciousness, which makes it an essential work.