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Re: “No ha-ha's in Funny Games; sensuality imbues Caramel

Wanted to share this review by NYPress.com critic Armond White. He's the finest critic writing and hits the nail on the head describing this vile movie... SERIAL ABUSE Michael Haneke claims modern sophistication but proves hes a sadistic fraud in an American adaptation of his own film By Armond White Funny Games Directed by Michael Haneke Slasher movie fans exhibit better taste and higher standards when they scream or cheer at horror fare than Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke does. By transferring the setting of his 1997 film Funny Games to the United States, Haneke makes a tasteless and revolting miscalculation. Its the story of a well-to-do nuclear family, George (Tim Roth), Anna (Naomi Watts) and their 10-year-old son, George Jr. (Devon Gearhart), who are besieged in their lakeside summer home by two blond, gay serial killers, Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet)and it's conceived to raise hackles. As art, it's Hanekes comment on the inevitable (or deserved) violence in upper-class life. As entertainment, its scenes of the familys dehumanization come to a literal dead-end. Haneke confirms he is a Eurotrash art fraud. It is this new American context that vitiates any family or class critique Haneke intended to make. The obscenity of what happens to George, Anna and their son goes far beyond political rhetoric or moral satisfaction. Although derived from the siege situations memorably played out in The Desperate Hours, Sam Peckinpahs Straw Dogs, or John Brahms agreeably hokey 1967 feature Hot Rods to Hell, Hanekes film refuses the cathartic release of those earlier movies. The particular greatness of Straw Dogs was in Peckinpah exercising recognizable social tensions surrounding sex, imperialism and machismo. Straw Dogs triggered the American appetite for justice or kick-ass resolution and thenmasterfullyscrutinized it. Only people without Peckinpah memories will buy Hanekes specious claim to modern sophistication. When the psychotic Paul occasionally looks into the camera and addresses the audienceas if asking its permission to continue his malicious assaultthe postmodern routine doesnt work as a critique of bloodlust. Its just deconstructionism for art-house pseuds. The spectacle of watching a family pointlessly violated (George is wounded, Anna is forced to strip, the son is suffocatedand thats only the midpoint) is a sadistic endeavor that says nothing about Western cultural habits. Its merely Hanekes twisted idea of art. Imagine Neil LaBute with film craftyet that still doesnt justify Funny Games. From the first tense, deliberate shots of a car pulling a boat along a tree-lined highway seen overhead (like De Palma? Kubrick? O.J.?), its clear that things will not turn out well. Were being set up for some kind of portentous massacre. If Haneke was the genius social critic hes been celebrated as, this remake would have been re-titled as Fun and Gameswittily mocking his own misanthropy. But the dreadfully unfunny events Haneke indulges dont even relate to Socialist schadenfraude. Hanekes previous film, Cache, an exploitation of media naivet and French racism, was typically hailed for Scrape[ing] away at the surface of polite European affluence to lay bare the moral rot beneath. But that hoary clich ignores Hanekes offensive methods, which brings us back to the matter of his arty Eurotrash techniques. Restaging Funny Games in America reveals the snobbery in Hanekes thinking. He tries to subvert the film-going niceties of identifiable characters and traditional moralitystandards that todays critics perversely denounce in favor of frankly unwatchable films. Here, Haneke even employs the help of American indie director Lodge Kerrigan whose deadened style (Clean, Shaven; Claire Dolan) lacks the energy of Saw, Hostel or even Last House on the Leftvulgar entertainments that facilitate catharsis. Suppressing the audiences emotional outlet is an illegitimate tactic that Haneke links to his specious artistic purpose. When Anna cries out, Why dont you just kill us? Paul answers, You shouldnt forget the importance of entertainment. Pauls shallow irony is Hanekes odious attempt at cultural commentary. It goes against the grindhouse reflex. If youve lost the confidence to reject Hanekes highbrow European sadism, youre left to endure a repellent relay of atrocities: The father fumbles with a dead cell phone. Anna briefly runs off but finds no help. George, Jr. momentarily escapes only to wander to an unfamiliar estate; then he to defend himself with an unloaded shotgun. Instead of pulling a rug from under your expectations, Haneke continuously slams a door in your face. Hanekes cruelest, chicest ploy comes when Paul taunts Anna to pray. She doesnt know how, but the serial killer does; rigging her in a pathetic, supplicating position so that Haneke can dare a God-is-dead provocation. This hopeless message is now fashionable among the movie-culture elite. That explains the critics dismissal of Neil Jordans The Brave One, which explored human connection and the nature of vengeance in the post-9/11, post-feminist world. Its also why the Coen brothers No Country for Old Men is willfully trivialized as a horror-comedy; critics misinterpret the ending as nihilistic, deliberately overlooking the spiritual hope expressed in Tommy Lee Jones wry concluding dream. Pauls demand that Anna and George gamble on their fate recalls the Coens superior moment when Kelly Mcdonald rejects Anton Chigurhs wager as phony existentialism. Hanekes two-hour gambit is similarly perverse. Even the actors are sickening. Michael Pitt and Brady Corbets smiling creeps seem spawned from their previous repugnant movies Bully and Mysterious Skinstill blurring the line between gay and homicidal. Young Gearharts abused trembling is unsettling to watch. Tim Roth and Naomi Watts prove their skill by vivifying their characters limited emotional scale (the shocking range between distraught and terrified). Watts participation as the films producer is especially troubling. Cultural critic Richard Torres cited political bias in the non-American family and American killers casting; it suggests political reasons why Watts would commit herself to a project no more serious than The Ring even more repulsive. But we also need to question a culture that encourages such degradation. What was the purpose of Haneke doing his own shot-by-shot remake? A genuine artist would rethink his material (like John Ford developing Judge Priest into The Sun Shines Bright), but Haneke polishes the same old crap: blond Nazi boys in white gloves and tennis shorts. Emphasis on the banality of TV noise. Off-screen violence with hyped-up sound effects. And a repeat of the much-discussed remote-control effect where Paul rewinds then replays the film itself, apparently to ensure viewers the degradation Haneke thinks they desire. Theres no outwitting the villain, no restoration of social order. In toto: Its the ugliest movie experience since Twentynine Palmsanother misjudged, American-set Euro-debauch. The only ambiguity in Funny Games lies in whos most abused here, the characters or the audience?

Posted by jb4362 on 03/18/2008 at 11:03 PM

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