Funny Games
Collector's Edition

Starring: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Muhe, Frank Giering and Arno Frisch
Tartan Video
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: 18
Available 26 June 2006

Anna, Georg and their young son, also Georg, travel to their lakeside retreat for a week of sailing and family fun. However, their plans go awry from the start when a seemingly accident-prone young man arrives to borrow some eggs, supposedly for the closest house. He promptly drops them on the floor and knocks Anna's phone into the sink. Supplied with replacement eggs he turns to leave and drops these too. Anna asks him to leave and, when he doesn't, begins to feel unsettled. When another man appears and begins to question Anna on her unfriendly nature, Georg senior intervenes, but is savagely disabled by the new arrival using Georg's own golf club. The dog is killed and from that moment on the family is forced to endure several hours of torture and mind games with no apparent motive except sheer malice...

The idea behind this German film appears to be primarily to shock its audience. From what I can gather, Funny Games seems to be an investigation or indeed straightforward portrayal of violence as depicted in fiction media. As this very sombre film moves along at crawling pace there are progressively more moments which are supposed to make the viewer a part of the action - effectively accomplices to the aggressors' sickening displays. One of the perpetrators will turn towards the camera and say something significant so that it is left ambiguous as to whether he is addressing his partner in crime or you the viewer. Later this is made more obvious with the more intelligent of the young men speaking to the camera directly; an obvious if not totally successful attempt to unsettle the helpless spectator.

Right from the beginning music is utilised to give the effect of events going off-kilter. In the car, en route to the lake, the couple play guessing games with classical music on a CD player, until the soundtrack kicks in with extreme noise music which suits the atmosphere of impending doom.

In an interview with director Michael Haneke (who gave us Hidden) he explains how he fooled cinema-goers with the scene where Anna snatches up a shotgun and kills one of the men. Audiences apparently spontaneously cheered, and Haneke sees this as tricking them into becoming accomplices to cold-blooded murder. Personally I don't see it that way. How can a victim of this sort of abuse be acting in anything other than self-defence. The point is moot, however, as he snatches away the viewer's small victory by having the other man use the TV's remote control to wind back events a minute to prevent Anna making the move.

Long gone is the era of happy endings to conclude every story, but this one carries a depressing no-hope mood throughout. It's described as a film within a film, and I can appreciate what Haneke was trying to achieve, but I don't really think it's make its point sufficiently. He has boasted a psychological victory if he lures a person into watching until the end, but has he considered the poor reviewer?!

At the Cannes Film Festival Funny Games caused some controversy; people reportedly loved it or hated it. My reaction was one of indifference, hence the just below average rating.

Ty Power

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