Four Films by Michael Haneke 

Wednesday, May 17 2006

The ripples of unease that emanate from the work of Austrian director Michael Haneke have been spreading ever wider for well over a decade now. Last year, Haneke reached his biggest audience yet with the devastating Caché. This week, Kino releases on DVD three films at the epicenter of Haneke’s reputation as a scalpel-sharp artist of alienation, anxiety and violence: Benny’s Video (1992), 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994) and Funny Games (1997). Haneke’s second feature, Benny’s Video, transforms the bedroom of a 14-year-old boy (Arno Frisch) into an unnerving crucible of contemporary moral and ethical collapse when the titular Benny coolly kills a young girl in his room and his parents cover it up. Based on a true event in which a 19-year-old college student began inexplicably shooting customers in an Austrian bank, 71 Fragments sketches in the quiet desperation of ordinary lives while building to a moment of sudden violence that cuts them short. In Funny Games, the idyllic country retreat of a middle-class family becomes the staging ground for a sadistic assault on cinematic voyeurism after a pair of killers break in and take the family hostage. In each film, Haneke pushes past simply representing violence to explore our mediated relationship to it through the televised images of real-life horror that permeate our everyday lives. News footage of the conflict in Bosnia dominates the background in Benny’s Video and 71 Fragments, underscoring the characters’ numbed, muted response to violence even as it creeps inexorably into their own lives. With Funny Games, Haneke turns the tables on us when the film’s killers directly address the camera to accuse the audience of taking some pleasure from the rush of terror. Indeed, right from his first three features, including The Seventh Continent (1989) (also released by Kino this week), Haneke has consistently raised the stakes on the passive consumption of media images, including his own. Each disc is available separately and includes an interview with the director.

—Paul Malcolm

Other recommended new releases: Battle in Heaven (DVD), The Producers (VHS-DVD).

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Also released this week: DVD: Duma; Every Time We Say Goodbye; Grounded for Life: Season Two; Here Come the Brides: The Complete First Season; Hill Street Blues: Season 2; Home Movies: Season Four; Jazz Shots: West Coast, Vol. 1; Jazz Shots: East Coast, Vol. 1; Jazz Voice: The Ladies Sing Jazz, Vol. 1; John Coltrane: A True Innovator; Moldy’s Madhouse; That Girl: Season One; When a Stranger Calls; The White Countess; Writer of O.

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