08 August, 2009
Funny Games (2007, 1997)
Playing the games
More than ten years ago, German director Michael Haneke gave the world Funny Games (1997), a gruelling and relentless journey into nightmare that, along with greats such as Peeping Tom (1960) and Rear Window (1954) asks direct questions of the viewer concerning the voyeurism that is at the heart of cinema as an art form.
Like George Sluizer before him, who went to the US in 1993 to remake his marvellous Spoorloos (1988) as The Vanishing, Haneke here presents an American take on his own original, with an all-new cast and in English. However, Haneke’s second effort differs from Sluizer’s in that it is (i) identical to his first film shot-for-shot and (ii) it’s infinitely better made.
So, does the director’s decision render watching the new film pointless if you’ve seen the original, or vice versa? Perhaps those who ask such a question should first check out Gus van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho (1960) – the notable director (Good Will Hunting (1997) Elephant (2003)) also went for a near frame-for-frame homage – to find out for themselves if the approach does anything for them.
Whatever your take on the debate, this is still a rightful tenant of the genuine badlands of the human psyche – a horror film that does not mess about. Ann (Naomi Watts) and George (Tim Roth) arrive at their vacation home ready to enjoy some golf and sailing with their son Georgie (Devon Gearhart). As Anne is unpacking groceries, she is confronted by two young men, Peter (Brady Corbet) and Paul (Michael Pitt) dressed in golf clothes, wearing white gloves. At first happy to help with their request for eggs, Ann quickly realises that things are very far from normal when the two boys’ attitude turns antagonistic, then far, far worse. ‘Funny’ games are definitely not on the menu…
Unnerving calmness combined with wanton cruelty is the key characteristic of the assailants performances, with solid, terror-struck turns from Watts and Roth. The film’s real achievement, however, is the undermining of an audience’s customary complicity – in Haneke’s film, we are forced to identify not so much with the victims but rather with their all-powerful assailants. Peter and Paul are performing for us, a point underlined by the characters’ frequent questions direct to camera: they’re appeasing our blood-lust, our desire to witness the worst that can happen to other people. After all, why else would we want to see such a film? Ask yourself the same question before you watch – love it or hate it, this will not leave you unmoved.
Awards for Funny Games (1997): Click here for details.
Awards for Funny Games (2007): Click here for details.
Funny Games (1997): 108 mins. In French, German and Italian.
Funny Games (2007): 111 mins.