Archive for the ‘Funny Games (1997)’ Category

Spine #975

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Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: May 14, 2019

Region: Region A

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 German DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3962 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 33.77 Mbps

Notes: This is the North American Blu-ray debut of Funny Games.

Title

“The film is a film about the representation of violence in the media, not about violence per se. It is a self-reflexive film, after all.” –Michael Haneke (Cinema.com, 2007)

Michael Haneke’s Funny Games has been making enemies since its release, and to say that the critical opinion was polarized is an understatement. It should be said upfront that yours truly despised the film upon the first viewing, and this wasn’t because of the overwhelming mean spiritedness behind it. Instead, it was—in the words of Haneke himself—the self-reflexive nature of the proceedings that simply seemed to be one step too far. Fourth wall breaks have never appealed to this viewer and it is doubtful that they ever will. However, it is important to keep in mind the intentions of the filmmaker and to ignore one’s own prejudices and preferences in order to judge a film fairly.

Therefore, it is important to understand what Michael Haneke was trying to achieve:

“It’s meant as a provocation, and of course, all the rules that usually make the viewer go home happy and contented are broken in my film. There’s this unspoken rule that you can’t harm animals. What do I do? I kill the dog first thing. The same thing with the boy. You’re not supposed to break the illusion. What do I do? I break the illusion. It’s the principle of the whole film. It’s a very ironic film… When I did Benny’s Video, which was done before the first Funny Games, I had depicted violence but I felt that not everything was said. I was thinking, how I could continue this dialogue…

…I wanted to show the audience how much they can be manipulated. First they think it’s all an illusion, just a film, then I do this rewinding and suddenly you go back. I look at the viewer directly. I talk to him. I wink at him. I do this again and again to show how much one can manipulate. In view of this overriding illusion in movies, it’s a good idea to create a little bit of mistrust in the verité, in the truth of moving pictures.” –Michael Haneke (Cinema Blend, 2007)

The “slap-in-the face” aspect of the film certainly resonates, but one wonders if he even needed to go as far as he did to make his point. French auteur Jacques Rivette voiced his dislike of the film in no uncertain terms after seeing the film at Cannes and was still annoyed at the film a few years later when he called Funny Games a “complete piece of shit” in a 2001 interview published by Senses of Cinema. Haneke has the film’s two villains wink at the camera, speak to the audience, and rewind the events of the film via remote control. He takes a sledge hammer approach to a goal that could have easily been achieved more gracefully without these devices. There is a decided arrogance to this approach that rightfully rubs many viewers the wrong way, and one would have to label the film a success if this were Haneke’s only objective.

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This wink represents the first in a series of fourth wall breaks employed in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games.

However, the film’s success is open for serious debate if the director honestly intended to force his audience to consider how they are manipulated by the rules and structure of the genre while also critiquing their thirst for violent entertainment. For one thing, there are plenty of genre fans who enjoy the film’s cruel and nihilistic nature. They experience the film just as they would any other entertainment—just as they enjoy films like Scream (which affectionately critiques the slasher genre without ever having to break the fourth wall). What’s more, these fourth wall breaks become less distracting (and less distancing) upon repeated viewings, and one becomes desensitized by their knowledge of upcoming events. In other words, this film (which was originally intended as a “provocation”) eventually turns into another genre entertainment. One has to wonder if the director would be pleased about this particular fact.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection houses their disc in the same sturdy clear case that has become the standard for their releases (we actually prefer this to their digipaks). The cover sleeve includes thematically appropriate cover artwork that utilizes either a still or a screenshot from the film itself. It’s isn’t one of Criterion’s most brilliant designs, but it certainly serves its purpose. Also included in the case is a pamphlet that includes more film-related imagery and an interesting essay by Bilge Ebiri that is an interesting read even if you ultimately disagree with some of what is included within the text. Information about the transfer and technical credits are also included therein.

Menu

Criterion’s static menu features the film’s title in black against a red background in the same style utilized by both the film and Criterion’s cover. A loop of the television noises heard within the film provide accompaniment for this image, and the layout is exactly what collectors have come to expect from Criterion’s Blu-ray releases. It is attractive and should be intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

It will come as no surprise to the already initiated that Criterion’s image transfer is top notch and a huge improvement over all previous DVD editions of the film. These improvements go beyond the greater resolution offered by the DVD format as it offers a sharper and cleaner image (even in darker scenes) and showcases with better blacks and improved color throughout the duration. Whites are well controlled but quite brilliant, and fine detail consistently impresses as well. Contrast is also expertly handled here, and there is a natural layer of film grain that is well resolved and never distracting. The disc’s encode seems well handled and utilizes a relatively high bitrate, and there are no anomalies to complain about here. The restoration was personally supervised by Michael Haneke, so it seems reasonable to assume that this is how the film is intended to look and represents the his intentions.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a nicely handled representation of the film’s original sound. It seems likely that certain audiophiles may wish for a more dynamic mix, but I’m not sure that their disappointment would be reasonable. What we are given is a clean and clear mix with a reasonable level of separation. In all honesty, the track is fairly dynamic, it just doesn’t reinvent the wheel for a new generation of viewers (and purists will be pleased by this decision). It’s somewhat difficult to gauge the level of clarity in the dialogue elements, because German is foreign to this pair of ears. However, there doesn’t seem to be any issues here, and ambience, effects, and music are also admirably handled.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Trojan Horses – (25:09)

Criterion’s new retrospective interview with Michael Haneke finds the director candidly discussing the film’s origins and script evolution, ‘behind-the-scenes’ production challenges, the untimely deaths of three of the film’s four primary actors, and his intentions for the film. The film’s remake is also discussed (albeit briefly), but this topic probably deserved more time than it received. His discussion is often surprisingly thorough, and there is at least one surprising revelation as to one of his influences. It is a thorough discussion about the film and a worthwhile addition to Criterion’s supplemental package. As a matter of fact, it is the disc’s strongest extra.

Bad Boy – (17:56)

Arno Frisch’s new interview is also surprisingly revealing and offers plenty of interesting information about the film’s script and production. It is clear that he is proud of the film and is enthusiastic throughout the duration. His revelations here add to those given by Haneke and gives the viewer a greater appreciation for the movie itself. He also discusses his vivid memory of the walkouts during the Cannes screenings of the film.

Game Culture – (28:07)

Alexander Horwath gives what might be described as a scholarly appreciation of the film. It does offer the viewer some food for thought, but it honestly isn’t terribly revelatory overall and pales in comparison to the two previous interviews. Most of his observations are either obvious or debatable, and most viewers will have already considered much of what he has to offer here. It’s a worthwhile addition to the disc, but fans of the film may find it wanting.

Cannes Film Festival Press Conference (1997) – (44:12)

It is nice to find this vintage press conference included here as it offers quite a bit of information even as it hints at the film’s divided reception. The information divulged is sometimes hindered by some of the reporters as they sometimes asked asinine questions, but such is always the case. Many of the questions betrayed an innate misunderstanding of the material and seemed to both annoy and amuse Haneke himself. In addition, Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Mühe were largely ignored in favor of Arno Frisch (despite the fact that they had more difficult roles and did an outstanding job in the film). The answers are sometimes repetitive due to the ridiculous questions being asked, but at least this gives the viewer more opportunity to absorb the repeated information. It is a nice—if limited—addition that adds to the value of the disc.

Theatrical Trailer – (01:12)

The film’s original theatrical trailer rounds out the list of supplements admirably.

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Final Words:

Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is an “experimental provocation” that continues to polarize viewers. Some believe that the film is a successful critique of media violence while others believe that it is a hypocritical endeavor that merely raises the proverbial middle finger towards anyone who endeavors to watch the film.

This reviewer stands somewhere in the middle. It’s an interesting effort and worth seeing if only so that you can make up your own mind, and Criterion’s disc is probably the best way to experience it in one’s home environment.

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One Sheet