Saturday, February 9, 2008

Game Over

The trailer for Michael Haneke's 2008 U.S. version of Funny Games, starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, and a charmingly evil Michael Pitt, is one of the best I've ever seen. It gets me so pumped up (I've watched it multiple times because it's so good), and it made me really psyched to see it. Now, after seeing Michael Haneke's original Austrian version of Funny Games, released in 1997, I'm not so excited anymore.

It's apparently a shot-by-shot remake, and that's totally cool if a director does that for his or her own film (ahem, Gus van Sant), especially when it involves translating it into another language and making some requisite changes to present it to another audience. But, after watching Funny Games, I'm depressed. I'm left with a sour taste in my mouth. Even after a couple days, the bile of this film is still fresh.

It's about a well-to-do couple on a vacation at their summer home on the lake, and two preppy, self-congratulatory pricks come over and take them hostage. The bet: Will they survive the night? The main problem with the film, and there are many, is that I don't care about the characters at all. The ruffians enter the picture so quickly that there's no chance to bond with the family. I don't know them. Why does it matter what happens? So, allegedly Haneke is trying to make some statement about the media and desensitization of violence. Whatever. It doesn't work. If you're going to take it to that level, you have to really shove the audience's face in what you're trying to denounce. I hate to say it, but Irreversible, a film that makes me nauseous, does the anti-violence thing better. Funny Games is too smug and passive to say anything intelligent or profound.

It's not suspenseful, engaging, or remotely interesting. I was bored to tears watching it. There's not enough sex or violence to be considered exploitation, but there's not enough plot or character development to call it a real film either. At least being exploitative would mean Haneke was making a stand and taking a risk. It's an interesting concept and could have been powerful. Instead, this is the safest "cautionary tale" I've ever seen. It's timid, bland, and totally unsuccessful. It's pointless! Nothing happens. It irritated me that I wasted over an hour and a half of my life watching it.

There's nothing special about the filmmaking. In fact, it's mind-numbingly boring. The visuals are static and unimpressive. Haneke loves long takes, and there's one that lasts for ten minutes. Ten minutes! To his credit, it's the most emotional part of the film and probably the most successful, but it's largely due to the acting and not his camera positioning. For my liking, it's too far away from the action, and it loses its power after a few minutes. A close-up might have been nice, but I guess character identification and empathy would be too much to ask.

This film just makes me so angry! My blood is literally boiling right now. There are a few moments in the film during which the bad guys look directly into the camera and annoyingly address the audience. It's a cute gimmick for about a second, but it gets old fast, and its basic function is to insult the intelligence of the audience. Seriously. Haneke believes his viewers are idiots. There's no respect whatsoever. He wants to point the finger at you, to make you feel complicit in the violence. That's all well and good if it's done right, and a better director can do that and make it work because you believe that he or she also accepts responsibility. Haneke has a superiority complex. He thinks he's better than the audience. There's no sense that he feels complicit in the violence and how the media does this and that. He's above the problems of society. He doesn't recognize that he's a part of it, and he doesn't want to do a damn thing to change it. He's a lazy, conceited, apathetic jerk.

The only redeemable aspect of this film is the acting. Actually, I only like two performances, but they're enough for me to give it the rating I'm going to give it, and the only reason I'm giving it that at all. Susanne Lothar and the late Ulrich Muhe are fantastic as the terrorized couple. It's so tragic that Muhe died so young this past year, just after The Lives of Others came out and all the critical acclaim he received for it. He's a terrific actor, so I was thrilled to see him in something else. Still, Lothar and Muhe bring credibility and emotion to a film that doesn't deserve it. Muhe doesn't have much to do, so Haneke couldn't even use him right. But he's great at what he does do, and so is Lothar. Too bad they didn't get to do it in a better movie.

I still want to see the new version of Funny Games, because I love Naomi Watts, and Michael Pitt looks phenomenal in it. I'm willing to give it a chance, although I'm very weary. I just wanted to say that before I launch into my final rant.

I have no problem with arthouse films, but Funny Games is pretentious arthouse crap. But I don't want to insult pretentious arthouse crap. To be pretentious, there has to be some level of intelligence, and I don't think there is here. So, it's just crap trying to pretend its artsy and high-brow. It's completely inconsequential. It accomplishes nothing. It's definitely not shocking or audacious like Haneke thinks it is. It's cheap, cold, impersonal, accusatory, and blatantly insulting. With Funny Games, Michael Haneke apparently set out to undermine the Hollywood system, its conventions, and the all-encompassing culture associated with it. He failed miserably. The result is a film as shallow, ineffectual, and loathsome as the media-obsessed society he hates so much. Odd, then, that he would remake this piece of trash in Hollywood. Hmm, there's a word for people like him. Oh yeah. Hypocrite.

Rating: * (out of 5)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your review. Your reaction is part of what makes Funny Games the piece of art that it is. I'm sure Haneke the master would thank you for your contribution to his statement, if he wasn't so busy actually creating other pieces of cinema.

Lisa Draski said...

You're quite welcome for my review, Anonymous. If my reaction were, "Oh my god, he's right, violence is so awful, we're so desensitized!" - then Haneke would have been successful.

Being angry at how awful the film is doesn't contribute to his statement. I care nothing about the message, because I care nothing about the film. And if you're trying to make a film that will change people's minds, maybe you should stop being so smug and actually speak TO them as equals rather than condescend to them.

How does my reaction of hating the film and thinking it's a self-congratulatory, pretentious, misguided, failed exercise in depicting a theory make it art? Why would Haneke want people to hate the film? The MESSAGE is supposed to repel people, not the film itself. If his career goal is to piss people off, then that's a pretty shallow, pointless goal. If that's his purpose, congrats. Enjoy your hollow victory, Mr. Haneke.

What is he busy doing? What are these "other pieces of cinema" other than the one film set to be released in 2009? He's busy remaking his own films, only worse? Is he remaking Funny Games in France? Russia? Japan? Maybe somewhere it'll stick.

Michael Haneke would never thank me, because it would be too far to travel from his pedestal.

I appreciate your comments and respectfully disagree, as I'm sure you respect my opinions. I would love to hear more of why you think my reaction makes Funny Games "art." I'd be more than happy to discuss it with you.

Thanks for reading!