Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Benny's Video" (1992, Dir: Michael Haneke)

I can imagine that this film would have nonplussed critics when it came out, but seeing Haneke's works in reverse chronological order makes it a lot more interesting - you can see, in embryo form, ideas that he explored in depth in his later films. Present in Benny's Video is both the "filmwatching as voyeurism" idea he looked at in Hidden, and the "filmwatching as crime" idea he explored, to brilliant and challenging effect, in Funny Games. These themes are substantially less developed in this film, and it functions as more an exercise in brainstorming than a fully realized film in its own right - even looking at it from a pre-Hidden and -Games angle.

A lot of future Haneke regulars are here - Arno Frisch and Ulrich Muhe (may he rest in peace), both of whom starred in Funny Games play Benny and his father, respectively. Angela Winkler is the mother. Haneke uses subtle camera tricks and directs his actors in ways that complicate the questions ultimately posed by the film - who is the most heinous? The son, who kills without feeling and suffers no visible remorse (until, possibly, the ending - which I believe would have been better had it been left open-ended)? The father, who thinks only of his family and his son's reputation? Or the mother - do those little smiles represent a crumbling emotional front or is she secretly enjoying the perilous situation she's found herself in?

The underlying strain of anger towards America and American media is once again present here. Mickey Mouse makes another background appearance - he was in Funny Games as a refrigerator magnet. I find Haneke's distaste with American tash culture far more compelling than von Trier's - especially since von Trier has never even been out of Europe, and thus fits completely the "stuck-up, anti-American European" image than many Americans have. And apart from Dogville, I don't think von Trier has made anything remotely as interesting or complex as Funny Games or Hidden.

The direction is the star here - the acting is passable but not really significant in the scope of things. I find it kind of ominous that Ingrid Stassner, who plays Benny's victim, has no other credits on IMDb.

There's enough interesting material here for me to give it a B- grade, but it will probably only be of interest to Haneke fans.

No comments: