Funny Games

1997 / 2007

Directed by Michael Haneke – Written by Michael Haneke

Starring: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Muhe, Arno Frisch and Frank Giering / Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet

Funny Games is what I would call the peak of Michael Haneke’s career thus far, however, it is also a film I have spent a few years defending from people who ‘just don’t get it’. Hands up, this is not the easiest watch, but that is not what cinema is about, cinema is so much more than escapism for the masses.

Before we start, a quick clarification. There is Funny Games (1997) and Funny Games U.S. (2007), both are Haneke films, the only difference is that the second is in a different language to the first. Ten years after the original, Haneke made a shot by shot remake of his film for the English speaking audience. So, depending on which version you decide to tackle, names will be interchangeable, Susanne Lothar / Naomi Watts or Ulrich Muhe / Tim Roth for example.

I first encountered this self-reflexive horror late one night on television, completely unprepared for it. If film hadn’t been my thing I would have been like the many others to disregard it. Instead, I was hooked. The use of silence in the beginning had me genuinely check my volume, check other channels and come to the conclusion I had broken something. Silence here is used to juxtapose against a sound that will catch anybody off guard and works to set an atmosphere from the off that I have seen many other horrors fail to establish in an entire movie.

The writer / director of this work is constantly breaking ‘the fourth wall’ to interact with his audience. Through the two antagonists Paul and Peter, played by Arno Frisch / Michael Pitt and Frank Giering / Brady Corbet respectively, he directly asks you who you’re supporting, who you think is going to win, whether they have pushed far enough. The two aren’t seen as characters as such, more as archetypes. They also appear under different names that should set bells off, Beavis and Butt-Head, Tom and Jerry.

Funny Games is a film that takes pleasure in manipulating us as an audience and is more than happy to break the illusion. During the film the mother takes a gun and kills Peter, at the Cannes Film Festival this got an applause from the audience, it is at this point the director steps in and allows Paul to pick up the remote and physically rewind what had just happened. This moment in the film tends to shock as it becomes painfully obvious how easily manipulated you are in that you’ve just applauded a murder, and also for nothing as Peter now continues to live.

As for performance, I find all play their roles with a huge degree of accuracy, although I do prefer the family in the original and the remake’s Peter and Paul. The one stand out performance from the two films is Susanne Lothar’s original mother. I’ve not seen many actors daring enough to go as far as she does in the film, emotionally and physically. It’s worth noting when you watch that the state she is in is never achieved by make up.

In Haneke’s own words this film is about the portrayal of violence in media and cinema, Funny Games gives analysis of itself within itself. It’s asking you why you’re watching when you know the outcome, it accuses you as an accomplice of the killer whenever you watch a violence portrayed acceptably, it questions your acceptance of consumable violance… And you probably won’t look at eggs in quite the same way again.

10/10

– Kieran Stanworth: Editor / Contributor

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