Sunday, July 21, 2019

FUNNY GAMES (1997) Blu-ray Review

Funny Games (1997) d. Michael Haneke (Austria) (108 min)

Austrian writer/director Haneke (Amour, The Piano Teacher, Cache) is not interested in pandering to audiences, especially not those glutted on bloodshed and slavering for more. Yet, in his astonishing self-reflexive meditation on onscreen violence and the fans of such fare (i.e, us), he walks the tightrope between catering to our baser desires while simultaneously implicating us in the crimes carried out onscreen. As we observe two young men (Arno Frisch, Frank Giering) insinuate themselves into a vacationing family’s (Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Stefan Clapczynski) lives, growing increasingly violent and demeaning, Haneke challenges us either to walk out or to admit to ourselves that we actually WANT to see these “innocent” people hurt, to see them tortured and humiliated; otherwise, why do we stay to watch? And what does it say about us if we do?

I first stumbled across this convention-shattering home invasion thriller in Steven J. Schneider’s 1001 Movies You Have to See Before You Die, one of the very few horror offerings listed that I had not already encountered firsthand. (The other was Konstantin Ershov and Georgi Kropachyov’s breathtaking 1967 Russian fantasy, VIJ, which also comes highly recommended.) Upon watching, I almost immediately revisited it, this time with my lovely femalien, as much to watch her reaction as to re-experience it myself. I dived deep into Haneke’s filmography in late 2017, which marked my third viewing as well as the second for the director’s scene-for-scene 2007 English remake starring Tim Roth and Naomi Watts.

As such, it would be fair to assume that Funny Games should have very few surprises left for me, and yet as the final credits rolled on this most recent outing, I still found myself breathless with admiration for Haneke’s audacious filmmaking skills combined with a feeling of having been beaten soundly around the mind and soul. I’m still knocked out by its ferocity, its intelligence, its stunning performances, and how it manages to be both a critique of violence (and an audience hooked on violent art) while still delivering the requisite suspense and thrills of a conventional genre piece.

It also contains one of the most astounding “never seen that before” moments (which I will not divulge, despite its 22-year-old vintage, in order to preserve its power) that throws the viewer as off balance as the onscreen characters.

I’m thankful that fellow birthday boy Ian Simmons decided to ring me up to take in Criterion’s new Blu-ray release, and honored to have been invited to share the microphone for the corresponding Kicking the Seat podcast episode.

There really is no other film like it.


Trivia: Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Mühe were married in real-life when they were playing Georg and Anna.(They also appeared together in Haneke's adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Castle.)

New 2K digital restoration, supervised by director Michael Haneke, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray

New interviews with Haneke and actor Arno Frisch

New interview with film historian Alexander Horwath

Press conference from the 1997 Cannes Film Festival featuring Haneke and actors Susanne Lothar, Arno Frisch, and Ulrich Mühe


New English subtitle translation

New DVD/BR liner notes/essay by critic Bilge Ebiri

Funny Games is available now from Criterion on Blu-ray and can be ordered HERE:


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