Funny Games – Austria, 1997

Funny Games is a 1997 Austrian home invasion horror thriller written and directed by Michael Haneke. The Wega-Film production stars Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Arno Frisch, Frank Giering and Stefan Clapczynski.

The film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on May 14 via The Criterion Collection. It has been newly restored in 2K with a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack and newly-translated English subtitles.

  • Interviews with writer-director Michael Haneke and actor Arno Frisch (new)
  • Interview with film historian Alexander Horwath (new)
  • 1997 Cannes Film Festival press conference with writer-director Michael Haneke and actors Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Mühe
  • Trailer
  • Booklet featuring an essay by critic Bilge Ebiri

Plot:

An idyllic lakeside vacation home is terrorised by Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering), a pair of deeply disturbed young men. When the fearful Anna (Susanne Lothar) is home alone, the two men drop by for a visit that quickly turns violent and terrifying.

Husband Georg (Ulrich Mühe) comes to her rescue, but Paul and Peter take the family hostage and subject them to nightmarish abuse and humiliation. From time to time, Paul breaks the fourth wall and talks to the film’s audience…

Reviews:

“What is most satisfactory about Funny Games is also the most ironic: it is a movie with one of the most extreme messages I have ever seen, and yet one where the visualization of the cruelty is remarkably restrained. That’s because it has deeper agendas to consider, and not ones normally viewed with deadpan scrutiny” David Keyes, Cinemphile

” …it masterfully walks the tightrope of social commentary and scream-inducing terror. Of course, the best films in any genre offer something prescient about our society, but Funny Games makes you feel the commentary before you think it.” Sarah Foulkes, Film School Rejects

Funny Games observes the family’s excruciating terror and suffering with the patient delight of a cat luxuriantly toying with a mouse that it is in the process of slowly killing. Posing as a morally challenging work of art, the movie is a really a sophisticated act of cinematic sadism. You go to it at your own risk.” Stephen Holden, The New York Times

Funny Games’ self-awareness epitomizes artsy pretentiousness, forgoing the self-critical reflexivity of both Dario Argento’s spectatorship-challenging gorefests and Hitchcock’s readings of voyeurism as participation. Haneke’s literal-mindedness, though, is no straw that broke the camel’s back; Funny Games purports subversion of genre expectations but its efforts continually smack of laziness.” Rob Humanick, The Projection Booth

Funny Games aggressively confronts viewers and challenges their choices as film consumers. This is perhaps Haneke’s fatal flaw because it is difficult to accept criticism from someone who uses the very subject he is criticising to deliver the criticism. Most film fans simply don’t like being critiqued as aggressively as this. Such discomfort is better left for reality.” Chris Justice, Senses of Cinema

“Amazingly, very little violence is actually seen; we hear its perpetration and witness its aftermath, which (though no less disturbing) is absolutely crucial to the responsible treatment of such a horrific subject. Brilliant, radical, provocative, it’s a masterpiece that is at times barely watchable.” Time Out

“Haneke’s approach is unnecessarily self-conscious: His characters literally wink at the camera and openly interrogate the audience, and the effect is much less effective and disruptively obvious. That said, the first half is sadistically intense, Geiring and Frisch make wonderfully creepy psychopaths, and Haneke and cinematographer Jurgen Jurges burnish the film to a high polish that’s rare for the genre.” Ken Fox, TV Guide

“Ugly, mindless with pretensions of intellect, the film is an amoral, barbaric work that seems so out of kilter in a society addicted to senseless violence. The film was booed by the festival audience, an appropriate response.” Paul Fischer, Urban Cinefile

“The film outstays its welcome and is more than a little too knowing in its manipulation of standard audience expectations for the genre.” David Rooney, Variety

“Events are rewound in surreal fashion to remind us that this is a movie, and the actual violence is teasingly off-screen, as if the sadists were playing with us instead of their victims. This may or may not be contempt for the audience, but, rather than provoke thought, it only ends up quite pointless because, since they have no motives or point to make, we don’t get a chance to figure out our own motives for watching the movie in the first place…” The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

Cast and characters:

  • Susanne Lothar … Anna
  • Ulrich Mühe … George
  • Stefan Clapczynski … George Jr.
  • Arno Frisch … Paul
  • Frank Giering … Peter
  • Christoph Bantzer … Fred
  • Doris Kunstmann … Gerda
  • Wolfgang Glück … Rober

Technical credits:

109 minutes

Remake:

In 2007, Funny Games was remade by Haneke in English, with Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet in the lead roles.

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