Review by Gordon Justesen
Lother, Ulrich Muhe, Arno Fisch, Frank Giering, Stefan Clapczynski
Director: Michael Haneke
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 109 Minutes
Release Date: May 14, 2019
ď...whether by knife or whether by gun, losing your life can be fun sometimes.Ē
It might be considered almost a sin to view a remake of a film before experiencing it in itís original form. And rarely does it happen where I see a remake first and I later find the original version to be remotely inferior. The Departed and Vanilla Sky are the only two exceptions that leap to mind.
In the case of Michael Hanekeís Funny Games, though, that problem didnít really matter. Hanekeís 2007 U.S. remake was one that was shot-by-shot, and made with the full intention of reaching a wider audience. The original was made a decade earlier, and had failed to reach an American audience, making Hanekeís reasoning for remaking it justifiable as opposed to selling out his vision for the domestic market, like what happened with George Sluzierís Amercanizing of The Vanishing.
The remake shook me to my core when I first saw it, and Hanekeís original German version is every bit as effective. Though it carries the look of a familiar home invasion thriller, and indeed thatís practically what it is, Haneke has something tricky up his sleeve as the proceedings unfold. Itís a trick that plays against viewerís expectations, a trait that gives the film itís distinction...one that audiences werenít quite prepared for.
The main storyline involves a family about to enjoy a vacation at their lakeside home. They quickly settle in, and Georg (Ulrich Muhe) and son Schorschi (Stefan Clapczynski) then enjoy some time in the lake on the family boat. Meanwhile, Georgís wife, Anna (Susanne Lother), gets an unexpected visit at the house from a pair of seemingly polite teens named Paul (Arno Fisch) and Peter (Frank Giering), who kindly ask to borrow some eggs.
Their visit is anything but one with polite intentions, though, as they lure their way into the familyís home and engage in an unyielding game of physical and psychological torment against the family. But just as we think weíre about to experience a normal home invasion thriller, Haneke turns the tables on the viewer by having one of the psychopaths break the fourth wall and addressing the audience and pointing out their nastiness by wanting to witness such atrocities unfold. Itís a gesture that Haneke uses to intentionally make you feel more guilty for doing so, making a commentary on audiences thirst for violence in a most unusual and quite fascinating form.
And the experience becomes even more unsettling once you realize that Haneke is holding nothing back regarding the brutality on display. Though itís not exactly graphic or gory violence thatís on display here, itís nonetheless nerve-shredding. In a weird way, Haneke is almost challenging the viewer to see if he or she will decide to switch the film off, especially when it becomes clear that, with a winking eye, he thinks youíre a sicko just as much as Paul and Peter are.
Clearly, the film is not for everyone and it has its many detractors who feel itís super pretentious and then some. And make no mistake that even though I seriously admire the film, itís not an easy one to revisit so often. But in the end, I simply canít help but admire Haneke as an artist for crafting bold commentary within an already unnerving thriller, which is precisely why Funny Games is the distinct work or art that it is.
Criterionís Blu-ray handling beautifully embraces the camera work applied by Haneke and cinematographer Jurgen Jurges. The film has equal shares of daylight and darkly lit sequences, both of which shine fantastically in 1080p. Colors are a huge plus as well, as illustrated alone by the appearance of the title in big red lettering.
The DTS HD mix serves up quite an effective sound presentation. Itís mostly a dialogue driven piece, but the periodic bursts of violence as well as the music delivery (particularly the loud metal music that opens and closes the film) help elevate the overall presentation.
The Criterion Blu-ray features brand new interviews with director Michael Haneke and actor Arno Fisch, as well as one with film historian Alexander Horwath. Thereís also footage from the 1997 Cannes Film Festival featuring Haneke and stars Susanne Lother and Ulrich Muhe and a Trailer. Lastly, thereís a great insert featuring an essay by critic Bilge Ebiri.
Funny Games is a most potent film experience, and a well-deserved addition to the Criterion library. However, it remains a difficult film to recommend to, well, just about anybody. I guess the best I can say is this: enter at your own risk.