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Funny Games (1997)



There's a phrase they use down south, "too clever by a half" that may well describe Michael Haneke, director and writer of the Austrian thriller Funny Games. The film starts out as a tough, grueling tale of home invasion. It has a moment of grief as its centerpiece that is as heartbreaking as anything ever filmed. Then it throws a curve ball at the audience that unravels everything into a ball of hypocrisy.

A family, Anna (Suzanne Lothar), Georg (Ulrich Mühe), their son, and the family dog rent a cozy vacation cottage in the countryside. Their holiday is undone almost immediately with the arrival of Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering), two strangers who start off friendly enough, but soon turn threatening. Well made, attractively photographed, and scored by John Zorn, Funny Games is on the surface a taut, serviceable thriller. But Haneke has other things on his mind than just simply making a scare flick.

It is hard to comment on Funny Games without revealing its central conceit. But when it comes, anyone who has invested emotion in the film is sure to feel cheated. And this is the reaction Haneke is trying to elicit. Whether they can accept it or not is up to the individual viewer. By the end of the running time, he seems to be openly criticizing anyone who would actually watch such a film for entertainment's sake. However, it would be hard to make a film of this caliber without being intimate with the genre. Is he also criticizing himself for having sat through such trash?

Compelling, frustrating, challenging, condescending, Funny Games is bound to elicit a strong reaction from an audience. One is bound to feel aggravated and conned when the credits roll. On a second viewing, one may find it even more frustrating. But in the end, the questions it raises can't be easily dismissed. A study in ambivalence and disappointment, Funny Games is a film every fan of thrillers should see. Just remember that director Haneke thinks you're an asshole if you actually enjoy it.