Directed by Michael Haneke
I actually hadn’t seen the original Funny Games before I saw this film at the Melbourne International Film Festival but the only thing that critics seem to care about is that Michael Haneke has made an almost shot for shot remake of his 1997 original, this time in English. He hasn’t revised his ideas and neither is this film a commentary on auteur theory and remakes like Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho. This is a film for people like me who hadn’t yet caught the original. If you saw the original you’ll get absolutely nothing from this version. Likewise, I feel asolutely no need to seek out the original Austian version of the film.
Funny Games is a commentary on screen violence. Michael Haneke is famous for saying that if you walk out of this film, you don’t need it but anyone who stays does. This quote has been construed as an indictment of audiences who consume violence but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. Haneke is concerned with how a lot of American films package violence into an easily consumable product be it the violence-fetishism of Tarantino or the neat psychoanalysis of, well, Psycho. He’s basically arguing that if you are serious in depicting violence, you need to show that it hurts and that the roots of violence are complex. Moral filmmakers should respect this and filmgoers should call them on their bullshit if they don’t.
The way Haneke goes about this is to present what at first appears to be a scenario that will easily launch a series of horror cliches: A wholesome family’s home is invaded by two men with deadly and sadistic intentions. The remarkable thing is just how effective the film is as a work of suspense. A particularly great scene happens early on when one of the invaders invites himself into the house by asking to borrow some eggs. Seemingly innocuous but the scene shifts effortlessly from banal to sinister. But then Haneke flips the film on its head and has one of the intruders played by Michael Pitt turn to the camera and mock the audience for being so easily manipulated. It’s at this point that the film shifts from being a horror film to being a film that forces the audience to acknowledge how they want the film to make their experience of violence that much easier – and then systematically denies the audience those easy answers.
Funny Games is a film that has got quite a beating from the critics and a lot of it has to do with the film’s didacticism. Margaret Pomerantz even criticised the film because it shows that Michael Haneke is arrogant. But the world is full of great artists who are full of themselves. Haneke might be a guy with strong opinions but at least his films feel like a man spouting his opinion rather than making some claim to realism. We should thank Haneke for his honesty even if we don’t agree with his thesis.