Monday, October 6, 2008

Funny Games U.S.

Hmm, wish I remembered writing that last post.

Just watched Funny Games US, as part of my annual October Horror Movie Marathon.

I wouldn't really call it horror, but I suppose it's the closest genre tag you could stick on it. It does focus on violence and its effects and interpretations in the media, and I suppose it's a little scary – although disturbing is a more appropriate word.

The story follows George (Tim Roth), Ann (Naomi Watts), and their kid Georgie (Devon Gearhart) as they arrive at their lakefront vacation house. Their neighbours are acting strangely and are followed about by two faux-charming young golf enthusiasts, Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet).

Around dinnertime, Peter comes by to borrow some eggs, and things soon become awkward, then uncomfortable, then seriously tense, then terrifying, then analytical.

It's not spoiling anything to say Peter and Paul set about to torture the family, especially because the meat of the movie isn't in its violence (most of which takes place off-screen), it's in the ideas about violence.

Paul often turns to the audience to discuss what he should do, what movie logic dictates should happen, how we, as viewers, are complicit in the violence happening in the movie. We watch violent movies all the time, but rarely do we step back and think about the practical consequences of violence. I get a kick out of Dario Argento movies, but I don't associate all the stabbings and decapitations with anything other than fiction. Funny Games seems to contend that fictional violence is as real as actual violence – we're still seeing someone murdered, regardless of whether or not it's simulated or not.

It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it works.

Director Michael Haneke remade his earlier Funny Games in English for an American audience, thinking it would probably have more of an effect if in the native language of the media culture it's criticizing. That's a sound idea, but the problem isn't with translation, it's with a breakdown in the satire.

Haneke seems to jab us for watching his movie, constantly raising questions about our desire to see violence. Fair enough, but he made the movie and he's just as much to blame as his audience. Producers of video violence are only catering to a demand, but they're still catering to it instead of just patently ignoring it.

More than anything, though, I think Haneke just wants his viewers to think about what they watch, rather than to tell us what to do. An unexamined movie isn't worth watching, after all.

Anyone have any thoughts? If you haven't seen it yet, it might screen in Dalian next month – details later.

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