In 1997, I watched a disturbing European thriller, called ‘Funny Games’. Made by Austrian film maker Michael Haneke, (director of ‘Cache’, ‘Amour’, ‘Benny’s Video’ and ‘The White Ribbon’) it came with his reputation for making uncomfortable films, and some dire warnings from critical reviews too. Nonetheless, I wanted to see it, so I did. It stars the late Ulrich Muhe, who later gave such a superb performance in ‘The Lives Of Others’.
The story starts with a typical well-off family; wife, husband, young son, and family dog arriving at a lakeside holiday home. They meet their next door neighbour, who is accompanied by two smart and respectful young men. Later, the two young men arrive at the holidaymakers’ house, asking to borrow some eggs. But their behaviour is unsettling to the lady, especially when they contrive to break the telephone, insisting it was an accident. When they refuse to leave, she asks her mild-mannered husband to make them get out. But they break his leg, using one of his golf clubs. One of the young men constantly breaks the cinematic ‘fourth wall’, by looking at the audience and asking them questions. It is an unsettling ‘trick’ indeed, that involves us in the events playing out before our eyes.
The film then turns increasingly nasty. The men hold the family hostage, revealing that they have killed the family dog, Rolfi. They want them to participate in cruel ‘games’, and bet them that they won’t be alive by 9 am the following day. With no spoilers, all I can say is that things do not end well, as you might have already imagined. As a viewer, I was left wondering what the film was trying to say, if anything, though I later read that Haneke considered it to be an attack on media tolerance of our violent society. It is a well-made and thought-provoking film, but one that leaves you worried that you watched it at all.
Ten years later, Haneke remade the film himself. He used the same house as the set, and replicated the original film scene-by-scene, with no detail or script changes. But this time it was set in America, starred British actor Tim Roth as the unfortunate father, and Naomi Watts as his wife. I was intrigued. I mean, why bother? The same film, same sets, no changes other than location, actors, and choice of language. So I went to see it. As promised, it was identical, though more familiarity with some cast members, and the absence of the original’s German language, lost this remake the chilling European feel of the 1997 film. I would have to ask Haneke why he bothered, I know.
But I don’t have his number.