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Funny Games (1997, Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe)

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Austrian director Michael Haneke’s intelligent, thought-provoking drama dissects the nature of screen violence and asks why we, the viewers, avidly watch thrillers and horror movies which use violence as a tool to entertain. ‘In thrillers, violence is constantly present, but shown in such a way that any sense of reality is removed,’ he argues. ‘You get shoot-outs in slow motion, people dancing to their deaths. If you want to show violence for what it is, you have to show the suffering of the victims.’ That’s why Funny Games is both uncompromising and, at times, difficult to watch.

Further developing the themes explored in his previous films The Seventh Continent and Benny’s Video , Haneke sets Funny Games in the upper-middle-class world of the Schober family, vacationing in their lakeside holiday home. Husband Georg (Ulrich Muhe), wife Anna (Susanne Lothar) and son Schorschi (Stefan Clapczynski) find their idyllic break swiftly becoming a nightmare when two teenage boys show up at the house. Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering) initially seem like polite and well-mannered boys, but their behaviour soon suggests otherwise: the family dog is killed and Paul breaks Georg’s knee with a golf club. With the family being held captive in the house, Peter and Paul make a bet with them that they will all be dead within 12 hours.

Subverting its thriller genre by having the two killers address the audience directly (when asked why he doesn’t kill the family straight away, one of the teenagers replies ‘Don’t forget the entertainment value: we’d all be deprived of our pleasure’), Funny Games was called a ‘remarkable film’ by Empire , which added: ‘It’s a film you might argue with, but its sparing use of on-screen violence, some extraordinary protracted scenes and sensitive handling of thorny subject matter make it also a film you ought to see.’

production details
Austria | 108 minutes | 1997

Writer and Director: Michael Haneke

cast
Ulrich Mühe as Georg
Susanne Lothar as Anna
Arno Frisch as Paul
Frank Giering as Peter
Stefan Clapczynski as Schorschi
Doris Kunstmann as Gerda
Christoph Bantzer as Fred
Wolfgang Glück as Robert
Susanne Meneghel as Gerdas Schwester
Monika Zallinger as Eva