Funny Games (1997 film)
Original release poster
|Directed by||Michael Haneke|
|Produced by||Veit Heiduschka|
|Written by||Michael Haneke|
|Edited by||Andreas Prochaska|
|Distributed by||Concorde-Castle Rock/Turner|
Funny Games is a 1997 Austrian psychological thriller film written and directed by Michael Haneke, and starring Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, and Arno Frisch. The plot involves two young men who hold a family hostage and torture them with sadistic games in their vacation home. The film was entered into the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. A shot-for-shot remake, filmed and set in the United States, was released in 2007, also directed by Haneke, this time with an English-speaking cast and a mostly American crew.
A wealthy family—Georg, his wife Anna, their son Georgie, and their dog Rolfi—arrive at their holiday home beside a lake in Austria. They spot their next-door neighbor Fred accompanied by two young Viennese men whom they do not recognize. Fred introduces the men as Peter and Paul, one of whom Fred claims is the son of a friend.
Shortly after the family settle in, Peter and Paul begin imposing themselves on the family's courtesy. First Peter asks to borrow eggs which he keeps breaking, supposedly by accident, also destroying the family's phone with his apparent clumsiness. Eventually, a frustrated Anna demands that the men leave, asking Georg to eject them from the premises. Peter breaks Georg's leg with the latter's golf club while Paul reveals he has killed Rolfi, and the two men take the family hostage. Shortly after, neighbor Eva, in the company of several friends, arrives at the family's dock on her boat. Paul escorts Anna to greet them. Anna lies, stating that Paul is a family friend, and says that Georg is resting, having pulled a muscle while setting up the yacht. Anna tells Eva the family may come over after dinner.
Over the following several hours, Peter and Paul subject the family to sadistic games; Paul demands Anna remove her dress after Peter states he would not have sex with her. Paul then covers Georgie's head in a pillowcase, but Georgie eventually flees to Fred's house, which he finds empty. Paul chases after him, cornering him in the house. Georgie attempts to shoot him with a shotgun, but finds the gun has no ammunition. Paul returns Georgie to the home, bringing the shotgun with him.
Paul asks if the family wants to bet whether they will still be alive by 9:00 the next morning, though he doubts that they will win. Between playing their games, the two men keep up a constant patter, and Paul frequently ridicules Peter's weight and lack of intelligence. He relates contradictory stories of Peter's past. No definitive explanation of the men's origins or motives is offered. After a few more games, Peter plays a counting-out game between the family members and shoots Georgie while Paul makes sandwiches in the kitchen. After this, both intruders leave.
Georg and Anna weep for their loss, but eventually resolve to survive. Anna flees the house while Georg, with a broken leg, tries to repair the malfunctioning phone. Anna struggles to find help, but eventually Peter and Paul reappear, capture her, and return to the house. During another sadistic game, Anna grabs the discarded shotgun and kills Peter; however, Paul uses a remote control to rewind the film, breaking the fourth wall, and prevents this from happening. They kill Georg and take Anna out on the family's boat early the next morning. Around 8:00, Paul casually throws the bound Anna into the water to drown, thus winning their bet. Shortly after, the men arrive at Eva's house and knock on the door, asking for some eggs.
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The film frequently blurs the line between fiction and reality, especially highlighting the act of observation. The character Paul breaks the fourth wall throughout the film and addresses the camera in various ways. As he directs Anna to look for her dead dog, he turns, winks, and smirks at the camera. When he asks the family to bet on their survival, he turns to the camera and asks the audience whether they will bet as well. At the end of the film, when requesting eggs from the next family, he looks into the camera and smirks again. Only Paul breaks the fourth wall in the film, while Peter makes references to the formulaic suspense rules of traditional cinema throughout the film.
Paul also frequently states his intentions to follow the standards of film plot development. When he asks the audience to bet, he guesses that the audience wants the family to win. After the killers vanish in the third act, Paul later explains that he had to give the victims a last chance to escape or else it would not be dramatic. Toward the end of the film, he postpones killing the rest of the family because the film has not yet reached feature length. Throughout the film, Paul shows awareness of the audience's expectations.
However, Paul also causes the film to go against convention on a number of occasions. In thrillers, one protagonist that the audience can sympathize with usually survives, but here all three family members die. When Anna successfully shoots Peter, as a possible start to a heroic escape for the family, Paul uses a remote control to rewind the film itself and prevent her action. After Peter shoots Georgie, Paul scolds him for killing the child first because it goes against convention and limits the suspense for the rest of the film. At the end of the film, the murderers prevent Anna from using a knife in the boat to cut her bonds. An earlier close-up had pointed out the knife's location as a possible set-up for a final-act escape, but this becomes a red herring. At the end of the film, Paul again smirks triumphantly at the audience. As a self-aware character, he is able to go against the viewers' wishes and make himself the winner of the film.
After killing Anna, Peter and Paul argue about the line between reality and fiction. Paul believes that a fiction that is observed is just as real as anything else, but Peter dismisses this idea. Unlike Paul, Peter never shows an awareness that he is in a film.
Haneke states that the entire film was not intended to be a horror film. He says he wanted to make a message about violence in the media by making an incredibly violent, but otherwise pointless film. He had written a short essay revealing how he felt on the issue, called "Violence + Media." The essay is included as a chapter in the book A Companion to Michael Haneke.
Film scholar Brigitte Peucker argues that the film functions to "assault the spectator," adding: "On the surface, Funny Games appears to exemplify what Stephen Prince's idea of responsibly filmmaking... but, by means of modernist strategies such as the direct look out of the frame, it establishes a complicity between the film's spectators and the murderers depicted in its narrative. It takes, therefore, an aggressive—not to say sadistic—posture toward its audience."
Haneke wanted to make a film set in the United States, but for practical reasons he had to set it in Austria.
After the 2007 American remake directed by Haneke used the same house including props and tones, Robert Koehler of Cineaste wrote that this "proves for certain that—whether he uses the great cinematographer Jürgen Jürges (for the 1997 version) or the great Darius Khondji (for the new film)—Haneke is fundamentally his own cinematographer exercising considerable control over the entire look of his films."
Austrian critics argued that the intention was to undermine the heimat genre and its values, which are bourgeois and based on the home. European and English-language critics, according to Robert Koehler of Cineaste, "generally set their criticism against the backdrop of the American slasher film that the film was subverting" and "expressed mild forms of outrage along with admiration". In an interview, the film director and critic Jacques Rivette made his displeasure with the movie clear, calling it "a disgrace", "vile", and "a complete piece of shit." When first shown at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival one-third of the audience had walked out by the end of the film.
On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 69% based reviews from 35 critics, with an average rating of 6.97/10. The site's critical consensus states: "Violent images and blunt audience provocation make up this nihilistic experiment from one of cinema's more difficult filmmakers". On Metacritic the film has a score of 69 out of 100 based on reviews from 10 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Variety's David Rooney wrote: "the film is shocking and upsetting, but never truly gets under the skin the way this kind of material often can. Whatever reservations are prompted by Haneke’s approach, his direction is controlled and edgy." Rooney criticized the length of the film, saying it "outstays its welcome and is more than a little too knowing in its manipulation of standard audience expectations for the genre."
- "Care selve, ombre beate" (George Frideric Handel) — Beniamino Gigli, from Atalanta
- "Tu Qui Santuzza" (Pietro Mascagni) — from Cavalleria rusticana
- "Quintet for Clarinet, 2 Violins, Viola, Violoncello in A Major" (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) — Hagen Quartet & Eduard Brunner
- "Bonehead" (John Zorn) — Naked City, from the album Grand Guignol
- "Hellraiser" (John Zorn) — Naked City, from the album Grand Guignol
- "Funny Games (1997)". AllMovie. Archived from the original on 27 May 2019. Retrieved 27 May 2019.
- "Funny Games (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 13 March 1998. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- "Festival de Cannes: Funny Games". festival-cannes.com. Archived from the original on 10 July 2011. Retrieved 21 September 2009.
- Haneke, Michael (2010). "Violence and the Media". In Roy Grundmann (Ed.), A Companion to Michael Haneke, pp. 575–579. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-8800-5
- Peucker 2007, p. 142.
- Koehler, Robert. "Funny Games." (Archive) Cineaste. Retrieved on 12 October 2013.
- Bonnaud, Frédéric (25 March 1998). "The Captive Lover - An Interview with Jacques Rivette". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
- Johnston, Sheila (8 June 2009). "Palme d'Or winner Michael Haneke: cruel to his characters and to us".
A shock-sensation in Cannes, where it provoked mass walkouts
- "Funny Games". Rotten Tomatoes. 11 March 1998. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
- "Funny Games". Metacritic. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
- Rooney, David (25 May 1997). "Funny Games". Variety.
- Funny Games at Criterion.com
- Gleiberman, Owen (12 March 2008). "Funny Games". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
- Peucker, Brigitte (2007). The Material Image: Art and the Real in Film. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-804-75431-6.