Funny Games U.S.

Starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Devon Gearheart. Directed by Michael Haneke
Running Time: 111 mins
Rated: Rating tbc
Michael Haneke regretted that his 1998 Funny Games did not reach American audiences which, in his rather severe and finger-pointing opinion, was where it was needed. He has taken the opportunity to remake it exactly in English, with a better known cast, and set in New York state. Since it is almost an exact re-make (and this is what theatre directors do when they restage a play with a different cast, sometimes in the one season), it seemed the right thing to do to look up the 1998 review. It fits this version:

There have been many films about families terrorised in their homes, films like The Desperate Hours, with recognisable stars who help us share the frightening experience. This Austrian film from Michael Haneke, the director of Benny's Video, an alarming film about a boy obsessed with video violence and its consequences, is about a terrifying night as an ordinary family goes to their holiday house, where two seemingly ordinary young men come in and proceed to torment them physically and psychologically. Because the situations and characters are so ordinary, some audiences have condemned the film as exploitative. It is a very unpleasant cinema experience, but it is a dramatising of what happens and is a continual challenge to wonder why such seemingly purposeless malevolence can drive people to violate the innocent. A specialist film that may be too alarming for many audiences, but a powerful reminder of violence in the suburbs. [Of interest now is the fact that in the original the father is played by the late Ulrich Muhe, the East German agent in The Lives of Others.]

This version is very well acted. Naomi Watts is convincing as the brutalised wife and mother. Tim Roth (who twenty years ago might have been one of the intruders) is quietly effective as the husband and father. Devon Gearheart gives a strong performance as their young son. As the intruders, Michael Pitt (Murder by Numbers, Last Days) and Brady Corbet (the abused boy in Mysterious Skin) are frightening, all the more so for being initially ordinary and menacing. As with the original, the intruder Paul (Pitt) turns to the audience to eyeball them about what we are feeling; at another stage, after a shooting, the film rewinds and continues in a different way; it ends with a calm discussion between the two after their extraordinarily repellent behaviour about fiction and reality. Finally, Michael Pitt stares in a freeze frame at the audience.

Haneke makes very serious and strong films critical of the electronic media and its effect on makers and viewers (Benny's Video), a sado-masochistic teacher (The Piano Teacher) and two OCIC and SIGNIS award winners, Code Inconnu and Cache (Hidden). He is a bleak and serious satirist in the sense that he is a perfectionist in his expectations of human nature and portrays, extremely, dramas which underscore his disappointments and these expectations. Concerning Funny Games, he has made the point about his visual assault on the audience that today screen violence has been tailored to what is 'consumerable'.

Madman Films Out 11th September

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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