(1992) dir. Michael Haneke
Anyone who actually reads this (my imaginary friends, for instance), knows that I think that Michael Haneke is one of the most interesting directors making movies today. That said, as I have delved into his older work, and taking into consideration his most recent foray into American Cinema, he’s not always 100%. One thing guranteed, it seems, in watching his films, is a highly uncomfortable time.
Benny’s Video is a film about a teenage boy, obsessing over a video of a pig being slaughtered and video and sound imagery overall, decides that he wants to experience “the real world”. As typical, American junk culture is a suspect in Haneke’s eyes: McDonald’s, video nasties, politics. But the overwhelming phenomena of kids who are tuned into fifty distractions at the same time while they do their homework, who live with a constant sensory overload, are the norm. It’s no longer noise. It’s background: the news, real tragedy, everything.
Haneke also critiques the culture of filming to document. The banality of Benny’s holiday photography versus the banality yet horror of his violence that is documented. Haneke is most interesting really at the points of which he shows the camera capturing the off-screen violence. While Benny obsesses over the pig getting executed, over and over again, the human killing does not happen directly onscreen. The audience watches a live replay of the scene, mostly off screen. There is something quite fascinating about this critique and approach to violence.
I think, and it’s a little hard to say since this film is 15 years old and might have seemed more potent in its day, that Haneke is more interested in the representation of violence rather than actual violence. Culture is so obsessed with its own representation that actuality never almost exists. While this is his critique, his films have such an emotional distance that you never really feel the character in and of himself.
Much like Funny Games (1997), the film is a clear play of ideas.
But beyond that, the parents’ role in the narrative is hard to fathom. I don’t know what I make of that. Is it more then a critique of Austrian middle class?
My favorites of Haneke’s films are still The Piano Teacher (2001) and Caché (2005) in which the criticism seems more embedded in a narrative. In these other films, the discourse seems heavily on the surface, and while rattling and intriguing, the narrative of the two more recent films wraps this discourse and makes it feel less force-fed.
Haneke is a master filmmaker. It would be fascinating to see him just take the reins of a film like a Hitchcockian thriller, with no Modernist or Post-Modernist diegetic breaks, and just throttle the audience by his complete control of the visual images. But beyond his control, far beyond it, is his heightened cultural critique. There is not a single of his films that fail to leave the viewer in a heavy state of thought and analysis after watching the movie. And that is something.