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Funny Games movie review

Funny Games

We've had a rash of films lately that spice everything up with brainless animated monsters which desperately need to be coupled with a psyche as large as their visual interface to make them at least mildly plausible within a barely determinable plot. Oh Joy and Glory be,  not so with this one.

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Funny Games is a psychological thriller packed with superb dialogue (in German but subtitled) and plenty of ultra-violence. Said to have shocked audiences at Cannes, Funny Games centres on the connective bonds between a holidaying family who have the misfortune to meet a soft-spoken pair of young men, namely Peter and Paul. The gloved visitors soon  back up their quiet, persuasive manner with brutal violence (along the lines of knee-capping 'Dad' with a golf club). Then the real fun begins as Peter, clearly the thinker of the pair, begins manipulating mother, father and son in a series of games. Occasionally, he looks directly at the camera, speaking to the audience to include you in his macabre ploy.

The unique but horrifying aspect of this film is that there is no attempt to curb the degree of violence. Point is: none of what happens is real so there is no limit as to what can be done in terms of completely violating the characters. It's best to watch this flick without feeling too much sympathy for the family, although you can see every inch of their pain. But for anyone who creates a fictional situation with the intent to make people squirm, it's often an exploration of what could happen as opposed to what should happen. It's just a funny game called 'What if?'.

Unlike in 'Funny Games',  most violence in films is watered-down with comic relief or paired with an unspoken promise that no matter how many times the hero gets punched, kicked, shot or stabbed, the good guys are going to win. In the words of the writer, Michael Haneke: "it's that ardently sought feeling of security on the part of the consumer." This gives violence an ultimate sense of unreality as many people have little or no first hand experience of it's potential destructiveness. As we've seen recently, with these kinds of portrayals everywhere, who's to stop a child from trying it out in real life?

Michael Haneke has long been exploring the theme of violence and the media. He studied philosophy and psychology in Vienna before becoming a playwright, then a freelance director and screenplay writer. His other projects include: The Seventh Continent (1989), Benny's Video (1992) and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994) in his quest to "give back to violence that which it is: pain, a violation of others."

At the screening I went to, there was a woman who walked out of the theatre, shaking angrily and repeating, "That was absolutely dreadful!" over and over. This is definitely not a film that leaves you indifferent. Personally, I'd put myself in the shoes of the players: Peter and Paul. Then you can really feel like a sick puppy for a couple of hours.

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Title: Funny Games (1998)
Written by: Michael Haneke
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ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Filed: 25-Jul-1998 : Last updated: : Last tested: 3-Jul-2014: Last Compiled: 3-Jul-2014
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