Funny Games (1997 Original)
Sadistic, disturbing and gripping throughout, the viewer is left feeling that they too were part of the game.
To begin the usual introduction that proceeds my actual review of the film we will take a look at the director, in this case Michael Haneke. Rather ironically he is likely to be most well known for his american remake of this very film and by remake I mean an exact shot for shot retelling. Its certainly odd for a director to reproduce his film for a western audience, apparently he also felt the original had american implications the ease of violence being relatable to the culture. I’m sure there must of been other reasons to create it (after all there have been plenty of remakes) out of pure curiosity I may watch it in order to compare the two. Michael Haneke also directed The White Ribbon (expect a review of that shortly) which portrays strange happenings in a village in north Germany and also raises issues of violence in the youth.
Funny Games follows a German family of Georg (Ulrich Muhe) Anna (Susanne Lothar) and their son Schorschi (Stefan Clapczynski) on a break in their vacation cabin. Everything seems perfectly normal when two young men come to the home wanting some eggs, it becomes clear that they are not as innocent as they look. Subsequently they take the family hostage and force them to play sadistic games for their own pleasure.
What is most striking about Funny Games is the two central villains Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering) and their horrifyingly innocent demeanor’s. They have a laid back approach to the crime they are committing or rather to them the ‘game’ they are committing. Paul is the one with the plan and gives the instructions to the seemingly lost Peter who is sometimes scarily oblivious to the situation around him, at one stage even retiring to the kitchen for lunch. They both feel horribly approachable as characters made even more so by Paul who throughout the film addresses the audience by talking straight down the camera. This almost forces the viewer into the ‘game’ as though we are the third criminal, along with it creating a juxtaposition between reality and the story of the film, its as though the director is telling us “you are witnessing these crimes how do you feel?”
There is a continuous tension throughout the film, increased through long shots that purposefully exhaust the audience. One shot in particular comes to mind, with it lasting 10minutes we are left to ponder the events that have just occurred, tension is upped with the lack of anything really happening in the shot.
The acting is spot on. Each character is captured by its actor and was no doubt helped by the persistence and strain put on them by filming some of the scenes. Ulrich Muhe, most well known for playing Wiesler in the brilliant The Lives Others, brilliantly balances the emotions of a man who is left powerless to protect his wife and son. We see a character slowly give up on all hope from all the strain put on him physically and mentally. Susanne Lother is equally as powerful, on set she would force herself to cry before each shoot to create a realistically drained person. Both Arno Frisch and Frank Giering manage to carry the weight of two complicated characters and yet still give off the sadistic emotions required of them. Frisch is particularly impressive for he creates a calm and collective character and yet yields as one of the most disturbing I have ever seen.
With hidden questions raised (ease of violence in media being one) that perhaps the director will only truly understand, its the deeply disturbing exterior of Funny Games that is sure to curdle that blood.