Funny Games

Release Date: February 15, 2008
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Limited release

Movie of the Day for Thursday, August 30, 2007
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Do you like soccer mom porn? Because I do. A lot.

On the Big Board
Position Staff In Brief
192/196 Max Braden I can watch the news to know that killers get away with it. If you want to sell that you'd better damn well give me a great villain.

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What is it about violence and torture that movie-going audiences find so fascinating? Why do audiences continually flock to gruesome and ghastly movies like The Passion of the Christ, Sin City and Hostel, further illustrating their insatiable cravings for watching people get beaten, maimed or dismembered? Should we be ashamed of ourselves?

Ten years ago, Austrian director Michael Haneke sought to deconstruct the kind of violence filmgoers so willingly pay for with Funny Games (1997), a unique and uncompromising thriller about an upper middle class family - consisting of a mother (Susanne Lothar), a father (Ulrich Mühe), a son (Stefan Clapczynski) and a dog - who go on vacation and are kidnapped and tortured by two young men. The young men, Peter (Frank Geiring) and Paul (Arno Frisch), dressed in white, preppy clothes, force the family to play a series of sadistic games that will determine if they live or die.

Through aggressive, meta-cinematic techniques, Haneke explores and attacks audiences’ perverse enthrallment with violence by confronting it head-on with moments of self-referentiality and the deliberate breaking of traditional thriller (and narrative) rules. By the end, it’s clear the director has great disdain for his audience as well as the idea of violence being sold as a consumer product, especially in the film industry.

Since its release, Funny Games has become a topic of discourse and theory for many critics and film enthusiasts, with many praising Haneke for his ambitions but also complaining about his overt and vigorous strategies. Either they didn't like what they were being told or were turned off by the way it was being told to them, or perhaps both.

Odds are most American viewers haven't seen Funny Games. Will they be ready for Haneke's audacity with his own American remake? Funny Games (2007) will be the director's first venture into American cinema through Warner Independent. The premise, which arguably has Indie written all over it, has the potential to gain enough curiosity and word-of-mouth that would make it a midlevel hit. After all, American audiences have been very receptive to self-criticism in the past, making self-referential movies like Scream and Austin Powers $100 million hits at the box office.

Still, one factor that may prevent this century’s Funny Games from reaching mainstream success is its use of off-screen, rather than on-screen, violence. The original, while profoundly crude and highly suggestive, consciously withheld graphic imagery from the audience as a way to defy the genre it was mocking. Instead, it implied violence through the reactions of the characters. Such a strategy goes against the norm commonly found in American cinema, where directors go to great lengths to continue pushing the violence envelope. Deviating from this style could cost Funny Games in profits since it will likely be the violence that audiences are paying to see in the first place.

With a cast that includes Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Michael Pitt, it’s clear Haneke has his heart set on making a quality picture, but American audiences may not be too keen on a foreign director telling them what’s wrong with them. Plus, with movies like Scream, Hot Fuzz and even the latest Shrek, self-reflexivity isn't exactly original these days. Nevertheless, Haneke proved with the creepy and furtive Cache (Hidden), which itself was about bizarre voyeurism, that his style can get American audience interested, turning that film into a $3.5 million hit stateside.

Funny Games will bring up a topic American audiences need to confront: we fail to realize how much pleasure we take from watching other people suffer. We're unaware of our own schadenfreude tendencies because, deep down, we all believe we’re never going to actually experience pain and torture in real-life. So we look to the cinema and other media to fill that void. Funny Games is going to let us know there's something wrong with that. (Matthew Huntley/BOP)

Vital statistics for Funny Games
Main Cast Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt
Supporting Cast Brady Corbet, Boyd Gaines, Siobhan Fallon, Devon Gearhart
Director Michael Haneke
Screenwriter Michael Haneke
Distributor Warner Independent Pictures
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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