Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Cinematographer: Darius Khondji
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
Haneke is a serious film lover’s filmmaker, in that I don’t think the average person or even novice film lover would necessarily understand or enjoy him. I remember hearing nothing but praise when Cache came out, and when I finally watched it, being the first or so Haneke film I had seen, I didn’t get it. It wasn’t bad. Haneke’s style is slow. There is very little editing and the camera doesn’t move, which for the first few films is uncomfortable. He portrays his characters with such intimacy that it’s as though you’re a voyeur. Or maybe you’re just bored. Sometimes I’m not sure which. It was with 71 Fragments that I finally felt comfortable with his style, expecting it, and then his ideas began to wash over me.
In one of the earlier scenes, as the boys are introduced and in the most cinematic way possible, Haneke suggests what occurred and it’s terrifying. We hear a barking dog, never seeing it. Later Paul arrives, sees an expensive pair of golf clubs and requests to hit a golf ball, goes and then kills the dog - all without us seeing the dog, or any blood or bit of carnage. When the kid is finally shot it creates a moment that is completely empty. Haneke locks the camera down, we see the kid dead on the ground, his blood all over the wall and television, with the television playing a NASCAR race and with Anna tied up, trying to break free, then trying to stand, then finding her husband, who we think might be dead, but who was overwhelmed with emotion, on the ground, and he can’t stand because his leg is broken, shooting pain into his body like he’s never experienced (as Tim Roth expertly displays), and they have to keep trying to break free or die. It was at this moment that I decided to turn the movie off, only after this unbearably long take ended, which is much longer than you can nearly bear. I was left feeling all the more weird watching this film late at night, alone, with all the lights off in my apartment.
I finished the film the next morning as the sun shined bright and offered some needed foil against the macabre. After the long take, Peter and Paul have apparently left. We know they’re coming back, but as with the entirety of the film we keep thinking "what if?". Then when George is killed, I found myself retaining hope that would Anna would escape, and in one of the film’s most frightening scenes, as Peter and Paul take a tied up Anna onto a boat - frightening for the reason that I found myself completely dejected, no longer really caring if Anna escaped so much as hoping the film would just end - that she’s pushed off, left to drown and die in one of the worst ways imaginable. Peter and Paul then turn the boat around, heading to the next house to start up yet another funny game.
It’s the type of film where you don’t even care to read into what it’s exploring. There are ideas about white suburban escapism, which has veered toward alienation, demonstrated in that although all the neighbors seems to know and like each other, they are spread so far apart that it’s impossible for them to even fathom someone coming by to help. We watch as these seaside homes, painted in their classic uniform blues, grays, and whites, take on a sterile appearance. We gather that they’re rarely visited except for a few weeks out of the year, left vacant for the rest, taking up space that could be used by those in need, and thus Peter and Paul are acting toward an equilibrium. In such a violent world, it’s wrong for these families to live such isolated and safe lives. Peter and Paul do not have a reason to kill. We gather their worldview was shaped by the media they consumed, as they offer reference after reference, even calling each Beavis and Butthead, turning on a NASCAR race while on the verge of slaughtering the family. They are completely removed from the situation, observing it as no different than the television they consume, deciding to act in a way that would ensure their own survival. You can easily extend the narrative and see the media soaring having a field day (should they ever be caught), and the movie version one day arriving. I recall Hitchcock’s Rope and the story of students Leopold and Loeb inspiring the film. Though never mentioned, Peter and Paul know that they will live in infamy and it’s better than never being remembered at all.
And yet I feel guilty for even considering these ideas or others I’ve read, as their actions are so terrifying and their apathy so extreme, that to even contemplate an iota of justification behind these actions produces nausea. Haneke’s ability to say so much about the characters with so little, with a ripe tension between Anna and George (with George possessing some form of depression or melancholy), all with a kid that was so excited to simply sail with his dad, all without a single word made it all the more terrifying. They had their own problems and issues, never contemplating murder or death. They were simply trying to exist and were murdered in the most brutal way possible. I recall Haneke mentioning how he thought Spielberg’s way of shooting the showers in Schindler’s List was despicable because it turned genocide into entertainment. I’m not sure what Haneke is doing here.
It’s interesting to think about and take apart, but in the end I don’t think I’ll ever revisit this film all the way through. I don’t know what it’s trying to tell me or warn me about that warranted such terrifying images. It’s one thing for a horror film to show this. I think The Strangers and The Purge are excellent films in the genre. In the hands of a master, though, the images are no longer about shock. They are meant to explore and convey ideas. They have something to say. Not knowing what that is in this film leaves me feeling empty and emotionally drained. Wondering what it all meant to the man who made it and why these images were the best way to accomplish that; not with just one film, but two.
BELOW: Be kind please rewind
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