FUNNY GAMES (2007)
Classical music plays on the car stereo, as Ann (Naomi Watts), George (Tim Roth) and their young son Georgie (Devon Gearhart) drive up to their idyllic lakeside holiday house. They make plans to go yachting and play golf with neighbours. But around sunset Peter (Brady Corbet), an apparently amiable if awkward young stranger knocks at the back door and asks to borrow some eggs. This turns out to be the first move in a calculated and elaborate attack on the family mounted by Peter and his more suave friend Paul (Michael Pitt) - an attack which gradually proceeds from polite intimidation to prolonged bouts of physical and psychological torture. As the immaculately courteous pair of psychopaths occasionally remind us, everything that happens is being stage-managed for the benefit of us, the audience. After all, aren't these elaborate scenes of violence what we've been waiting for all along?
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Michael Haneke likes to inflict pain - on his characters and equally on his audiences, in equal measure. The actors usually fake most of it, but not us. The 1997 original was reviewed by serious critics in serious tones, because Haneke is a serious filmmaker. He is, but that doesn't make him infallible, and seeing this 10th anniversary remake, I am driven to the cynical conclusion that the film is nothing more than an actors' showcase and a hefty serving of Haneke's self indulgence. The idea that Haneke is implicating the audience in his funny games of violence and torture to prove what decadent lovers of screen violence we are is nonsensical.
Haneke says his 1997 film was "a reaction to a certain American cinema, its violence, its naïveté, the way American cinema toys with human beings. In many American films violence is made consumable. However, because it was a foreign language film and because the actors were not familiar to an American audience, it did not reach its audience. In 2005, British producer Chris Coen approached me with the idea to do a remake in English. I agreed under the condition that Naomi Watts star in the movie."
But this ignores the fact that audiences, even Americans, can tell the difference between screen violence and real world violence. And there is a cruel irony (or is it hypocrisy?) in how he himself toys with human beings in this film.
The two young perpetrators are given no motive for their cruel actions, which also detracts from the logic being claimed. Unfortunately, this cast is every bit as excellent as was the original. Naomi Watts (also credited as Executive Producer) goes through hell in a harrowing role that calls for every nerve to be exposed. She is wife and mother in the family of three, and has to endure her family being beaten and denigrated - as is she herself. Even the family dog gets it, which of course Haneke would explain as part of the lesson he is giving us.
I can't recommend the film, though, even for its superb performances. Give yourself a good whack on the head with a brick instead. It's quicker and cheaper.
Review by Louise Keller:
Although the family on holidays is the helpless victim in Michael Haneke's intense and menacing Funny Games remake, in fact, it is we the audience, that is Haneke's ultimate target. Although I didn't see the original German language version made 10 years earlier, this film is a shot by shot remake specifically for American cinema audiences as Haneke's provocative statement. At face value, Funny Games is a psychological thriller in which an innocent and unsuspecting family is put through psychological and physical torture by two strangers. But there is something far uglier and dirtier below the surface: voyeuristic sadism in which Haneke implicitly involves his audience. Haneke is a consummate filmmaker and he knows exactly how to press our buttons. The result is a devastating experience, filled with disquiet, anguish, pain, humiliation and a sense of helplessness.
The scene is beautifully set. Even the car casts grotesque, ominous shadows as Ann, George and 11 year old son Georgie (Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Devon Gearhart) head towards their peaceful holiday home on the lake. The music goes from tranquil Handel to unnervingly screaming punk rock guitar in the flash of an eye, and by the time we meet Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet - Paul and Peter - eerily wearing white gloves, we are already unsettled. It starts with a seemingly normal request - to borrow four eggs. But quickly, the family is a prisoner in its own home, subjected to unthinkable mind games and suffering. Performances are faultless: Watts plays vulnerable to perfection as her Ann is broken. She goes through a wide range of emotions starting with politeness before expressing outrage and finally succumbing to the inevitability of acceptance. Roth is also strong as the helpless husband and father, while Gearhart displays his heart on his expressive face. Pitt in particular, is the epitome of evil and the sequence in which he acknowledges the camera and rewinds the action is unforgettable.
Tension is exacerbated when the main violence occurs off screen: we are left to wonder what is happening from the disturbing sounds we hear. There is a constant feeling that Haneke is playing with us - like a cat cajoling a lizard from under its paw. After the devastating boom of a rifle, we watch the splatter of blood on the television set and wall for what seems like an eternity, before the victim is revealed. I admire Haneke as a filmmaker and like many of his films including The Piano Teacher and the recent Caché, but this one creeps inside your skin for all the wrong reasons.
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FUNNY GAMES (2007) (R)
CAST: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart, Boyd Gaines, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Robert LuPone,
PRODUCER: Christian Baute, Chris Coen, Hamish McAlpine, Andro Steinborn
DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke
SCRIPT: Michael Haneke
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Darius Khondji
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kevin Thompson
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 11, 2008
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.