This week we turn to Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” (1997). The reason why I chose this film is because of my complete admiration for his latest The White Ribbon which somewhat ties into the topic of this week’s review.
The story is simple. An upper-class Austrian family, Anna (great Susan Lothar from La Pianiste), Georg (Ulrich Muhe, well-known for his role in The Lives Of Others) and their son Schorshi (Stefan Clapczynski), go to their lake house for a vacation. At their doorstep appear two men, Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering), who introduce themselves as guests of the neighboring household. Soon after, the whole family becomes hostages to the two sadistic strangers who make them play humiliating and violent games.
With Funny Games Michael Haneke proves that he can make a thriller employing only five actors in a setting of one room. However it is not this that makes the film so engrossing, but the mind tricks and games that Haneke plays with us, the audience. Paul, one of the two sadistic strangers, at one point in the movie winks to us. At first we are bewildered by the fact that the character communicates with us but later we realize that we play an essential role in this whole spectacle. In one scene Anna manages to reach for the gun and kills Peter. We find ourselves relieved that the torturous ‘games’ will finally be over, that the ‘good’ side will prevail again. Suddenly Paul reaches for the remote and rewinds the whole scene to the moment right before Anna reaches for the gun. More than frustrated because of the continuation of the ‘games’, we find ourselves embarrassed and questioning ourselves because of the applause for Anna’s acts.
Haneke is certainly the master of manipulating the audience. In Funny Games he discusses the theme of justified violence and continues to discuss it in the latest The White Ribbon. Those who have seen this film will agree that it left them as uncomfortable and morally uneasy as Funny Games.