Michael Haneke’s new film Funny Games is upon us (at the Landmark). Except it’s not that new because it’s a remake of his 1997 Austrian production. I should confess right away that I don’t like Haneke; I suspect that he has little but contempt for his audience. Part of the point of Funny Games (and it is said that the new version offers no departures whatsoever from the original, apart from being in English – not unlike van Sant’s misguided Psycho experiment but without the sheer weirdness) is to teach the audience a lesson about screen violence and their eagerness to see it.
He does this by withholding the violence, by and large, teasing, and denying for some members of the audience the pleasure of seeing it, for others the catharsis. By simultaneously encouraging identification with the two psychopaths and the family that they terrorize, he is prompting the audience to consider their relationship with screen violence, how they receive it, how it relates to real life, and how it relates to their own selves and morality. My problem with this is that it comes across simply as school-teacher patronizing.This is not the deranged death-wish of Saló, nor the cathartic explosion of Straw Dogs, but a cool and detached exercise by someone with a well-developed superiority complex – poor misguided audience-member, Haneke is here to teach you how to be a better media-viewer.
Except he’s not teaching, he’s just playing his own funny little game with you. No-one ever accused him of being an emotional film-maker, and whilst his films will elicit an emotional response from most people (often one of revulsion/horror) it is pure manipulation. He hasn’t much respect for his characters either, for that matter (cf Benny’s Video, The Piano Teacher) and what about the ending of Hidden? That was a film that was raved about all over, an intelligent European “art” film with contemporary political resonance that was lauded right out of proportion to its merits, and in which Haneke exhibited so little respect for the audience that he didn’t bother to finish it. Explanations are not necessary (compare with the videotapes in Lost Highway) and open endings can make for rich speculating, but Haneke himself said there was answer to it (ie who is sending the videotapes).
It’s not Lynchian atmosphere or Buñuelian surrealism or simple old ambiguity, but another cold ploy on Haneke’s part to make monkeys of the audience. I am all in favor of movies that encourage one to think, that encourage debate, and that are made with intelligence and skill, but I am not in favor of self-satisfied film-makers with an inflated sense of their own moral high-ground patronizing the audience with cold-hearted exercises in manipulation.