Monday, May 30, 2011


Insomnia Theater -- Funny Games

Here's a movie you probably ought not to see late at night alone. It's not that it's so scary, but that it sticks with you in a depressing, cloying way, like giardia of the soul. The movie is German director's shot for shot remake of his same film, Funny Games. The original had the great actor from The Lives of Others, Ulrich Mühe, as the father. This time, in English, the mother is (better looking than the original) Naomi Watts, the father is Tim Roth, and the lead bad guy is Michael Pitt, whom I've watched morph from harmless teen on mid-series Dawson's Creek to idealistic, pacifist movie lover in Bertolucci's The Dreamers to this and then lately to homicidal good bad guy (and troubled WWI vet) on Boardwalk Empire. Now that's a journey.

The director is Michael Haneke, born during WWII in Munich, who also did the recent well praised but off-putting The White Ribbon and the good but seriously disturbing Caché, and whose TV movies I've never even heard of much less seen, stretch sporadically back to the 70s. This guy can make a film, but from what I've seen, he can't make a film you like. He can't seem to endear any of his characters to the viewer. It should go without saying, therefore, that the European elitists love him.

OK, the plot is simple. Quintessential family (mother father son and dog--in Germany it was an Alsatian; in America it was a Golden Retriever) towing a sailboat pull into their gated weekend place. They've seen the neighbor being a little standoffish (I guess) conversing with two preppie young men with white gloves on. That's what passes for subtle in Germany although, to be fair, it's a good detail as things develop. The young men come over serially and after the mother can't help but want them out of there, the real violence starts and never lets up although, to be fair, again, all of the real violence takes place, actually, off camera. Hmmm. The two young men with white gloves are psychopaths who enjoy terrorizing, humiliating and murdering family after family. Even the dog.

The interesting thing is the so-called breaking of the fourth wall, when Pitt looks into the camera and addresses the audience directly or when he gets the remote control... I'll leave a few things as surprises. And there are a pitiful few in the film: The golf club, the knife in the boat, the approaching car lights at night, to name a few. The fourth wall thing you'll either love or hate but I loved it, because it added to the central powerful manipulation of the film.

The reason I'm even talking about this is that the film nearly destroys your sense of justice. These are sloppy, sloppy killers but they'll never get caught. Even when something goes wrong for them, it doesn't matter. They fix it, or just nothing happens from the mistake. That's not how we have learned to view a movie. Here in America, the bad are ultimately punished, the good, if plucky enough, survive. Not this film.

There certainly is a taking to heart of the phrase that Hanna Arendt used to describe the Third Reich villains, particularly Eichmann--the banality of evil. It is difficult to judge whether the actors are doing well or not, as what they are doing is so nothing special. There is little open emotion (perhaps the good bye kiss was an exception), little for the actors to do actually. The question we're left with is why did this get to us? Why are we still thinking about it--without satisfactory dénouement, without catharsis, without even much thought provocation. Ciao, bella and whole lives (we kinda care about) are over with narry a ripple to show for it. What's up with that?

Unlike other disturbing films which actually change your life for the worse just for having seen them (like Irreversible, Audition and Salo) this film seems to have some sort of beneficial pay off for the hardy souls who stick it out. I just wish I could put into words what the payoff is.


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