(1994) dir. Michael Haneke
My “numbers” film series, movies beginning with a number, allowed me to queue up one of director Michael Haneke’s earlier films, 71 Fragments of a Chronicle of Chance, part of his “early” period, in which his films were more “experimental” and fragmented.
I stumbled onto Haneke via his film Caché (2005), and have gone on to see a couple other films of his, including The Piano Teacher (2001) and his 1997 film Funny Games, which has his name in larger form around the United States, with its “re-make”, which the more I think about it, the less I feel the need to see it. That said, from watching his other films, I have all of his films now queued up and I even queued up a list of what I’d read were his favorite films. I think he is that good. However, Caché and The Piano Teacher are the best that I’ve seen, and though this film here offers some radical narrative aspects, I think some of his earlier work seems somehow dated.
Perhaps, for instance, with Funny Games, whose turn on the audience’s implicit compact with cinematic violence is questioned, out loud, I am not sure that such a message so plainly stated has the impact that something more subtle could have. With 71 Fragments, some of the issues are similar.
The media, the American government, global though localized war, the psyche of a culture. Perhaps, the landscape is broad, but it’s also a bit “hot button”-ish. A spree killing centers the narrative, though it’s brought to the audience in fragments, broken via time, culminating in a single act, a ripple effect through a multitude of issues. A Romanian child refugee. A mother with post-partum depression. An “ace” college student, seemingly clean-cut, seething with rage.
Ultimately, perhaps one of the film’s significant qualities is that it does pull in the headlines of the day. The structure, reflecting on the news presentation of the spree killing, amidst various reportings of child molestation (Michael Jackson’s second go around) and wars in Bosnia, Somalia, Ireland, and other tragedies, locate this film very much in its period of the early 1990’s. Children also seem a central theme through this film, from the homeless refugee to the adoption of a socially-challenged young girl, to the college student whose frustrations become paramount…perhaps that is why Michael Jackson catches the heat whereas everything else seems much more worldly.
Haneke has a proficiency with the camera and editing, his glimpses, his fragments still resonate, communicate, yet force the viewer to fill in gaps. It’s funny, but his target with Funny Games was Quentin Tarantino, who actually brought at least some narrative misalignment to Hollywood, some less straightforward telling of story.
Again, like Funny Games, 71 Fragments has a datedness to its approach. Maybe that is in its reliance on current events that pushes that feeling more than its true core. I think there is more to consider in this film, more going on. But Funny Games, for its obviousness that somehow diminishes itself, also features some striking narrative manipulation. And even if you can critique that nature of cinema or cinematic narrative style (as Haneke does), I am still more awed by his mastery therein.
Actually, another of his early films is playing tonight down at the Roxie and I would like to go see it. I don’t think I will end up doing so (Benny’s Video (1992)). I think this film might have been better on a larger format.
Still, he’s far more interesting than a lot of directors out there. I hope that he stays that way.