Monday, February 13, 2006

Code Unknown: An Auto-Dialogue



A: So, as you know, I saw Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown recently.

B: But you’d seen it once before, right?

A: Five years ago. I remember being a little dazed by it, especially its loose structure: 27 scenes, almost all shot in single takes without any cuts, ending brusquely by going to black screen, sometimes in mid-sentence. I realized later that Haneke isn’t interested in simply working on one level (the personal) but simultaneously on several (familial, social, ethnic, political, moral, philosophical), which the amorphous structure of the movie seems to accommodate with great ease.

B: Yes, but the multi-stranded narrative structure isn’t necessarily better at this accommodation than a more defined, even familiar, thriller-genre-derived structure, as in Caché.

A: True. And that speaks to Haneke's versatility and skill. In Code Unknown, despite its structural singularity and sprawling, fragmented narrative, a remarkable coherence emerges. Haneke has spoken of his first three films (The Seventh Continent, Benny’s Video and 71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance) as being his “emotional glaciation” trilogy, but it is clearly a theme that runs through his entire body of work. The idea is that human life in the industrialized Western world is narcotized and frozen. We live our lives separated from reality, without confronting the truths (personal, social, moral) that we should be alive and alert to. The media help maintain us in this frozen state, giving us the bogus “illusion” of truth by pretending to keep us “well-informed” about the world’s realities.

B: Yes. A good example of this glaciated state is the scene in which Anne (Juliette Binoche) is ironing her clothes to the accompaniment of “noise” spilling quietly out of the TV. She hears loud voices, an altercation, a child’s cries, turns off the TV and listens—breaking momentarily out of this glaciated state—but when the neighbors fall silent, she spends a few seconds in quiet thought, then turns the TV back on and resumes ironing. The scene ends the way it began.

A: But what does it take to finally break out of that emotionally sealed-off state into a state of awareness and engagement?

B: Well, in her case, the film shows several “attempts” to rupture the ice curtain, so to speak. The first is the street confrontation at the beginning of the film that unsettles her a bit. Then we see a “false" rupture of her equanimity in front of the camera when she is locked into the room of death. But this occurs in a performance context, which is again sealed off from her real life. What it really takes is the arrival of the letter about an hour into the film. The event is a turning point of sorts for her; she begins to question her actions, and those of Georges. The supermarket scene follows. Then, the laughing fit during the dialogue dubbing scene, a sort of hysteria which indicates that she is no longer able to keep her real life and her performance apart. The rupturing process is underway. Then: the scene in the subway which completes "the melting". (Ice turns to water: she cries.) Anne emerges from the Metro, walks straight home, changes the code. Hopefully, a new (and more alert, aware and sensitized) life begins.

A: Interesting that the arrival of the video in Caché (the rupturing event, and the equivalent of the letter in Code Unknown) occurs at the get-go. Haneke is getting down to business sooner: introducing the alien substance, spending the rest of the movie observing its effects. Once again, the couple in the film are named Georges and Anne…

B: What about the film-within-the-film, The Collector? She describes it to her friends at dinner as a thriller. Is it a by-the-numbers genre film or is it a stand-in for a Haneke film, a sort of Funny Games?

A: It’s possible that Anne thinks it’s a straightforward genre film—an impression supported by the casual, light manner in which she recommends it to her friends—but the words of the serial killer are tellingly spoken by the director behind the camera: “Show me your true face,” he says. (“ton vrai visage.”) This could easily be Haneke initiating the rupture of the character’s composure to obtain, in effect, a "genuinely human" response.

B: Of course, Haneke is also attempting to do to the audience exactly what he is doing to his characters. This is perhaps more viscerally apparent in his other films, like Funny Games, Benny’s Video or Caché, which deliberately assault the audience and break through our coolness and complacency and the separation we feel between our lives and the comfort of what is “just a movie”. He wants his films to disturb us, so that we carry them out of theaters and into our lives like a wound we can’t conveniently forget. But sometimes—and this is not true of Code Unknown—I sense that Haneke derives a little sadistic relish from inflicting this punishment upon us, which bothers me a little. But I guess I admire his films enough to try to overlook this aspect. But: back to Code Unknown. What about the role of the media?

A: Yes. The media is a reliable Haneke bête noire. He worked in television for fifteen years and reserves for it his choicest vitriol. All his films feature TV sets pouring soothing, sedating drivel into homes. And Georges, who works for the media as a war photographer, is frozen-up in his own unique way. “I’m unfit for life in peace,” he confesses, and when a moment of personal reflection about his war experience and his return to “civilization” crops up at dinner with friends (potentially breaking the frozen surface!), it’s quickly interrupted by Anne leaning in and asking for (!) a dentist recommendation. There’s the end of that conversation. And to show Georges’ indifference to the carnage in Kosovo, Haneke juxtaposes his voiceover reading a banal letter home with his horrific still photo images. In Paris, he jerry-rigs his camera to take secret pictures on the subway, a displaced act of aggression, a certain kind of rape, you could argue, a perversion like Erika’s sadomasochistic affliction in The Piano Teacher.

B: Speaking of The Piano Teacher, civilization (Schubert) and barbarism (S&M) go hand in hand in Erika’s life. The room of death in Code Unknown is, let’s not forget, a wood-paneled, acoustically perfect music room. And Time Of The Wolf erases civilization in one quick stroke, leaving only barbarism.

A: We still haven’t talked about the big one: Communication.

B: Yes. Every single household in the film is stricken with communcation struggles. Georges and Anne’s only attempt at communication takes place in the physical space of oppressively ordered and suffocating material objects—the supermarket. The attempt is, not coincidentally, doomed to failure. The film begins with deaf children signing, and ends brilliantly with their reverting, along with their teacher, Amadou, to a pre-verbal state of pure, ecstatic communion/communication using the sound and rhythms of tribalistic drums.

A: Haneke banishes speech, returns to zero, and posits an optimistic building of the future by…children. A happy ending if I ever saw one.

B: I agree. But can I bring up one thing that’s always bothered me a wee bit about Haneke?

A: Uh-oh.

B: Don't get me wrong: I think he’s among the great living moviemakers, but that doesn’t make him “immune to skepticism”, right? Here's my point: Haneke is an old-fashioned European moralist. He makes didactic movies that he feels perform a useful social function. (Code Unknown is my favorite of his films partly because it appears to me his least overtly didactic.) This also means that often, after I’ve seen his films a couple of times to untangle their narrative complexities and apprehend their raisons d'existence, the films feel to me like they've...served their purpose, performed their function, exhausted themselves. Further revisits yield—as the economists might put it—“diminishing marginal returns”. The fact is, Haneke’s characters seem like illustrative creations, intended by this stern grey-bearded martinet to teach us cautionary lessons, albeit important ones. This fact will always keep me at a slight remove from his (cold, cerebral and pedagogical) movies, while continuing to admire and appreciate them. Just being honest here.

A: And meanwhile, for your movie revisitation fix there’s always…

B: For one: Jean Renoir—no less true or complex than Haneke but having the unbeatable advantage of being an arch-humanist of the cinema. Renoir will always mean more to me than Haneke, the anti-humanist, ever will.

A: But don’t you see: Haneke makes us swallow the bitter pill because he is ultimately a humanist, even if his means (as in Funny Games) are anti-humanist. Above all, he wants us to see the errors of our ways…

B: Oh shut up.

A: Okay.


The CODE UNKNOWN Blog-A-Thon also includes, in alphabetical order:

72 Comments:

Blogger Tuwa said...

I don't know if The Collector is this one, based on the Fowles novel--I've read the novel but it was over 10 years ago--but I remember it being a fairly literary genre piece focused less on thrilling than on philosophical exploration (as you might expect from the author of The French Lieutenant's Woman--imagine if The Silence of the Lambs were all about Buffalo Bill and his captive, and Clarice simply showed up at the end).

February 13, 2006 12:24 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Well hell. Why didn't I remember that feature before posting?

February 13, 2006 12:26 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey Tuwa, I never knew about that IMDB feature. Pretty cool.
By the way, there's no reference to the Fowles novel or Wyler film in the Haneke movie. Not sure if Haneke had it in mind. There's a swimming pool scene in the film-within-the-film which is not in the Wyler film.

February 13, 2006 12:31 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Ah. Interesting. I should see the film, and not just because it would help along the discussion. ^_^ I'm not sure if I want to revisit the Fowles novel; I remember being somewhat disappointed with it, but I might have been approaching it expecting pulp.

February 13, 2006 12:45 AM  
Blogger Eric Henderson said...

B: I agree with you more than A because of two points. First, I agree that Code Unknown is much less aggressively didactic film than everything else I've seen by Haneke (which will include Caché later this week but is, at the moment, limited to this, Funny Games and Time of the Wolf). Second, I had the nagging suspicion throughout my viewing that Juliette Binoche's character was, despite all structural/stylistic evidence suggesting otherwise, the central character in the film. Your analysis of her thaw makes complete sense.

February 13, 2006 2:05 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Excellent post, G.

The self-interview approach brings to mind...a Haneke version of King of Comedy?

February 13, 2006 8:15 AM  
Blogger girish said...

In the basement. Shuttling between two chairs. Rehearsing both points of view. While Mother yells from upstairs, "Dinner's ready, Rupert!"

February 13, 2006 8:32 AM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Hey Girish --

I've posted a trifle offering to the blog-a-thon on my site. Enjoy the MP3.

February 13, 2006 9:14 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Filmbrain.
Just added your link to the list and republished.
Shall scurry over and read your post now.

February 13, 2006 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Darren said...

I started my response too late yesterday afternoon, then got distracted by the Olympics (of all things) last night. Hopefully I'll have something up by this evening.

February 13, 2006 9:41 AM  
Anonymous Aaron Hillis said...

G:
It probably won't be popular with everybody, but I weighed in for Blog-A-Thon #2. It's all for the greater good, I swear!

February 13, 2006 10:05 AM  
Anonymous dvd said...

I love the structure of this post, Girish!

And Aaron, your post was invaluable.

I went ahead and posted my incomplete take on the film, so that I could say that at least half of it was all original material (looking at what everyone else has been writing this morning, I keep seeing what seem to be the same sentences popping up again and again)!

I'll be finishing it later this morning.

February 13, 2006 10:19 AM  
Anonymous jmac said...

G, forgive me for being obtuse, but is this an interview with yourself? If so, very cool! Love the illustration, my favorite one thus far!

February 13, 2006 10:23 AM  
Blogger girish said...

J., thank you. Yes, it's a "conversation" with myself. :-)

David, I'll check back at your site later for the completed post. I look forward to it.

Thanks, Aaron. I've updated the links list.

February 13, 2006 10:43 AM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

"Old-fashioned European moralist" -- yes, indeed. I think this is why I prefer his straight-out assaults on the bourgeoisie (Benny's Video, Funny Games, etc.) than I do these morality plays.

Don't get me wrong -- I admire his work tremendously. Yet I still prefer The Piano Teacher over Caché.

February 13, 2006 11:12 AM  
Blogger girish said...

The Piano Teacher is a tremendous piece of work. It just gets better and better for me.

February 13, 2006 11:14 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Filmbrain--To elaborate, I admire Benny's Video and Funny Games a lot too. But I find that their appeal and utility for me is now exhausted. I feel no urge to return to them.
Not so with The Piano Teacher which has psychological and emotional depth that those films lack (and admittedly, it wasn't their intention to provide them anyway).

February 13, 2006 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Great post, and I really like your approach. It's so ... Socratic. Your ideas about "frozen" lives and about Anne's moment in front of the TV and on the subway are very incisive and, I think, very accurate. Whereas I saw the film as a matter of people being perpetually isolated behind visible and invisible barriers (including Anne's apartment building, with its security code) I think this idea of being frozen and thawed is really central. And what I like even more is this idea about real life versus performance -- people in modern, industrial Western cities are all performing in a way.

I didn't see the ending as optimistic, but that's partly because the film ends in mid-sentence (and the "ending" I fill in, based on my own preconceptions, is more in keeping with the earlier parts of the film), and partly because this is my introduction to Haneke, so I have less of a vantage point to compare this film against. I am glad, though, that the film didn't browbeat me (which I had expected it to) and nicely allowed me to construct my own meaning based on how its structured.

One thing I'm wondering is if, in terms of Haneke's didacticism, if he's teaching, or if he's just observing. Are his other films more purposefully didactic?

February 13, 2006 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Girish B failed to mention a scene that really hit me on this re-viewing: the funeral. That the little girl next door died -- that she was killed, in essence, by Anne and George's failure to act -- is more fuel for Anne's thawing.

February 13, 2006 1:08 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Michael...
I would say that many of his films are in fact didactic (and I don't necessarily mean this in a pejorative sense--he's a moralist, and that's a good thing!). It's just that sometimes, in one's eagerness and didactic commitment to making a particular point, one forecloses the possibility of making other, possibly contradictory (but nevertheless productive) points...

Darren--Scatterbrains both (A & B), they forgot all about the funeral, but you're absolutely right.

February 13, 2006 1:16 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Doug just wrote, and he'll be posting tonight.

February 13, 2006 2:08 PM  
Blogger girish said...

David at Greencine has picked up on our Blog-A-Thon.

February 13, 2006 3:29 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

What a witty conceit to have a conversation with yourself about a film!! I love it.

And thanks to Dave Hudson for his Greencine alert. That man keeps me on my toes, I tell ya.

Being a new kid on the blog, I'm off to the video store to rent the dvd and, hopefully, I'll be back with some dregs for the best of you to pick through, having beaten me to the punch.

February 13, 2006 4:09 PM  
Blogger Dipanjan said...

Excellent post, Girish. I particularly liked the part about Anne's glaciation and "melting". Very nicely expressed. I share Girish A's admiration of Haneke's optimism and humanism. I started to write a couple of lines on that. It kept growing. So instead of hogging your comment space, I posted it here .

February 13, 2006 5:44 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Girish, you're right about one of the shortcomings of didacticism (though, generally, I have no problem at all with moralism, provided it's conveyed the right way).

I, too, forgot about the funeral scene (only mentioned it in passing and didn't note its signifcance). Even now I'm still thinking about the film's optimism ... and will certainly be thinking about it more in context with Haneke's other films (when I eventually see them, hopefully quite soon).

February 13, 2006 6:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all!
Dipanjan, please don't hesitate to leave comments here. You're never "hogging" space; I always enjoy what you have to say.

February 13, 2006 10:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

My Beloved Blog-A-Thonians:
Please visit Aaron's comments section and weigh in on what future YOU would like to see for the blog-a-thon.
David and I just did.

February 13, 2006 10:57 PM  
Blogger Eric Henderson said...

Done and done. I owe some others some comments, but I had a long-long day and I'll catch up tomorrow. No other Valentine's plans, naturally.

February 14, 2006 5:23 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Off topic:

Since you get more traffic here than probably any other film blog, the following news story (lifted from Video WatchBlog) may be of interest:

Korean Cinema at a Crossroads
South Korean government drops screentime quota for domestic films
"Oldboy" director and star return Cultural Merit medals to Korean government in protest

LOS ANGELES — Feb. 1, 2006 — The Korean government is betting that homegrown cinema will continue to flourish without the safety of a screen quota system that has protected the Korean domestic film industry since 1966. Local actors, directors and moviegoers aren’t quite so optimistic and are protesting their displeasure with significant public gestures.

Established to help the Korean film market grow from its humble beginnings into the worldwide cinematic hotbed it is today, the quota requires Korean cinemas to show Korean films for 146 days of the year. Starting July 1st, that number will be reduced to 73. The reduction had been demanded for years by the US government as a key condition for free trade negotiations, but its implementation has not been well received by many, including some of the biggest filmmaking names in Korean cinema.

“The government's decision to cut the quotas is equivalent to giving up our culture,'' said Choi Min Sik, star of Crying Fist, Lady Vengeance and the immensely popular Korean film Oldboy.

Choi recently returned his Cultural Merit medal, a prestigious award which honors Korean artists, to protest the quota system. “The medal was personally my pride and honor,'' Choi told reporters in Seoul. “Now it is a symbol of the government's betrayal. I don't need a medal from a country that chooses to stamp on our own cultural rights.''

In addition to Choi, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance director Park Chanwook, currently preparing to promote his latest film Lady Vengeance at the Berlin Film Festival, also returned his medal and commented that he will voice his concerns further at the festival. Tae Guk Gi and The Coast Guard star Jang Dong-gun has also come forward to voice his opposition.

Korean Filmmakers and artists are not the only ones expressing their displeasure. A group of South Korean lawmakers are currently seeking legislation to maintain the country's current quota for the screening of domestic movies, claiming the government's compromise deal with the United States is humiliating.

Korean cinema has witnessed unheralded success the world over in recent years. A Tale of Two Sisters was one of the ten highest-grossing horror films worldwide in 2004. Oldboy received the Grand Prize of the Jury at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Korean cinema has made giant crossroads into America on the success of the Asian horror genre as well as the unique style of its filmmakers.

"This is not a fight only for ourselves,” Choi told reporters. “We are fighting for living between the Korean and American movies and cultures. Oldboy would not have existed without the screening quota.”

February 14, 2006 12:24 PM  
Anonymous Aaron Hillis said...

Thanks for helping lubricate the conversation on my site, Girish!

Between heaps of freelance work and a promised Valentine's Day dinner, I'm going to try today to write my last big response (for now) addressing some of the interesting ideas presented.

February 14, 2006 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Flickhead --

I read about this not long ago. I believe it's going to become even harder for non "high concept" films to find funding. Directors like Hong Sang-soo were already finding it difficult to attract local investment (his last two films were financed by MK2) and this is going to only make it worse. Truly sucks.

I love the Choi returned the medal though. Right on!

February 14, 2006 5:16 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Aaron.

I've justed posted a gigantic comment on your site. Thanks for indulging me!

February 14, 2006 6:05 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

If you're still collecting links, it appears that Brian (the Five Branch Tree one, not me) included Code Unknown in his weekly filmlog yesterday.

February 14, 2006 9:39 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for that, Brian.
Shall update the links today.

February 15, 2006 8:28 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Eric--your celebration of Bess Motta is a little masterpiece.

February 15, 2006 9:38 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

This pseudo-monologue is a smart way to dramatize a critique, Girish! I like it. Is it the inner conflict of the polarized critic? ;)
Very interesting points too. That helps me to visialize more scenes from the film. It gradually comes back to mind as I read these blogs.

I don't know how to address your "sadist", "didactic" issues... I know what you mean by that, but this qualification of the style is slightly pejorative (even if you admire it). Cold? check. Distant? check. Moralist? check (in the sense of paraboles). Cerebral? check.
But in my own opinion, Haneke's films are way too obscur, crypted, multilayered and not enough straightforward to be "didactic" or "pedagogical". I'd say he's more of a cynic, he mocks reality for shock value. His moral lessons are never spelled out in the diegesis... they come from a series of conclusions we might draw ourselves from the genre bending. Does that means patronizing?
This is a vocabulary argument, so feel free to ignore me if my language barrier is the problem. ;)
Why do I think Haneke sounds less didactic than a textbook Hollywood genre with happy ending (manichaean) morals?

However I like your conclusion : "he is ultimately a humanist, even if his means (as in Funny Games) are anti-humanist. Above all, he wants us to see the errors of our ways…"

February 15, 2006 10:35 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Sorry, Harry. Hit by a blizzard of grading. Thanks for the comments. I will try to respond by tonight.

February 15, 2006 6:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

And I just updated the links, and made sure they were all live.

February 15, 2006 6:16 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Blog-A-Thon stats compiled by my inner nerd:
SHOWGIRLS: 17 players.
CODE UNKNOWN: 14.
Number of players common to both: 8.

February 15, 2006 6:32 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

=23

February 15, 2006 6:41 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Nice.

February 15, 2006 7:00 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

I just rented "Driller Killer".

The Ferrara-thon's a goof, right?

February 15, 2006 8:10 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I've never seen DRILLER KILLER.
But I've seen 8 or 9 others.
And no, it ain't no goof. :-)

February 15, 2006 8:17 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Harry, the film I most associate with Haneke's didacticism is Funny Games. (As I mentioned in the post, I find Code Unknown to be the least so.)

btw, Didactic = intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive.

"Funny Games" is a film about violence, particularly violence in movies. Among other things, it's a satire of the Hollywood home-invasion genre that was popular in the nineties (Fatal Attraction, Single White Female, Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Unlawful Entry, Pacific Heights).

Haneke is of course saying : "These movies make violence thrilling and alluring but in reality violence is a truly horrific thing. Also, a real home invasion plays out differently than it does in a Hollywood movie. Let me show you both."

I admire his polemical intelligence in the film. But I find his attitude towards violence a little reductive and simplistic. He never allows the possibility of the audience having a complicated, contradictory response to violence. Fact is, we don't have a simple response to violence.

The problem with being didactic is that the lesson you want to teach stifles and marginalize other, contradictory insights because including them would complicate the simplicity and directness of the moral lesson.

Also, often, his characters don't have a great deal of psychological and emotional depth (I mentioned this at Michael's site), partly because sometimes they feel like instruments or devices subjugated to the overarching energy and power and attention paid to the bourgeois critique that he's laying out. They feel like pawns in his game of critique.

Interestingly, this is complicated by some factors:
He has no qualms about portraying his male characters with very little sympathy, but he can't quite bring himself to do that (understandably) with women and children and non-whites. Especially so with female stars (Binoche and Huppert), whom he can't bear (my view here) to write as flat and two-dimensionally as the female characters in his Austrian films (until Funny Games, 1997). Thus, these characters have more depth (especially Huppert, because Piano Teacher is not an ensemble film) which, I think, complicates and enriches the films and mutes (a little bit) their didacticism.

Georges (Daniel Auteuil) in "Cache" is a much less sympathetic and complicated character than Binoche and Huppert (despite Huppert's monstrous problems), because he's a white man.
I know this sounds provocative, but I think "Cache" might have been a little richer if the lead character was Anne with a guilty secret in the past. She would have been invested with more sympathy by Haneke, thus complicating his moral lessons even more.

Re: sadism, it's probably subjective, but I get the feeling sometimes (Funny Games) that he gets a certain relish and satisfaction by watching his audience squirm while he inflicts his "terrorism" on them. This I find unconscionably un-humanistic.

Eric mentioned he despised Funny Games. I wonder what his reasons were...

February 15, 2006 9:58 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"Georges (Daniel Auteuil) in "Cache" is a much less sympathetic and complicated character than Binoche and Huppert."

I meant Binoche in Code Unknown, not Cache, since in the latter film, her role is underdeveloped, all the attention being focused on Georges.

February 15, 2006 10:04 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"Also, often, his characters don't have a great deal of psychological and emotional depth."

This came off a bit harsher than I intended.
Yes they do have depth.
But not as much as one would sometimes like.

February 15, 2006 10:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ben, I'll make you a deal.
You post a weekly list each week. And I'll link to it every damn time.

February 15, 2006 10:34 PM  
Blogger girish said...

MZS just got back from Disney World.

February 16, 2006 6:31 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Wow. Terrific Steven Shaviro piece on CACHE.

February 16, 2006 6:33 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Just discovered Joe Bowman's blog, which has a cool title (Fin De Cinema). His latest post is on SHOWGIRLS.

February 16, 2006 6:38 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Rich Juzwiak on Janice Dickinson (whom I'd never heard of). Great post. Also, check out that great 3 WOMEN banner.

February 16, 2006 6:43 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

You're too kind, sir.

February 16, 2006 12:36 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Pleasure's mine, Ben.

February 16, 2006 3:31 PM  
Blogger girish said...

You've probably seen this already:
Design Observer on slow design change at The New Yorker.

February 16, 2006 4:35 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Noel Vera on 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (with James Mason).

February 16, 2006 4:37 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Thank you very much for the extended elaboration Girish! This is a blog entry of its own ;)

If didactic means "intended to teach" (my understanding too), isn't it supposed to have a clear educational strategy (linear, easy, intuitive)? How does it help if the film is mysterious, truncated, obfuscated, without conclusion/denouement?
It doesn't matter if we interpretate his style differently, but I just take issue with this word because it seems to me it downplays his intentions. Haneke denounces evil but I don't see what he "teaches" us concretely...

The moral you draw from Funny Games is more a layered subtext that you figured yourself with your film culture and your intertextual analysis. It's not really a message spelled out by a character in the film or enacted by a telling situation (which is the way of moralist fables, tragedies and formulaic genre).

For reference, do you consider Greek tragedies or Shakespearian plays to be sadistic towards their protagonists just because they put them through so much hardship? Oedipus, Antigone, Phèdre, Hamlet, Macbeth... are also pawns on the checker of fate.
The personal sadism of Haneke himself is not our business, but I wouldn't say his films are sadistic by nature just because the subject is violence.

Again, I believe our disagreement lies in the conception we have of violence in cinema (or maybe in life), and how it should be depicted.

"Fact is, we don't have a simple response to violence."
I'm no so sure about that. Speaking of Georges in Caché, this simple threat cause a trauma to his personality and alter his judgement ability as well as his sociability with everyone around. His paranoid obsession shutters any alternate explanation, behavior despite the helping suggestions of his wife (who is not as implicated emotionally because the childhood trauma is not inside her memory, so she has more distance and room to contemplate a more balanced range of moral possibilities). Same thing in A History of Violence, the only moral options he can think of is (1) deny, (2) kill.
In Funny Games the violence is even more extreme because iminent, visible and felt in their bodies (unlike Caché where it is mainly in the imagination). Such trauma severly limits judgement and morality.
The film itself could present a richer range of morality by introducing sub-characters, but the strench of Haneke, IMHO, is to refuse Deus Ex-Machina plot tricks that can pop up the cavalery, superman or any last call rescue coming from outside by the stroke of a pen in the script.

Although I agree with you that his films only explore a very specific side of human nature (reductive if you will) and he doesn't try to portray a wide range of psychological response to the same stimulus. I don't see it as a problem though, given his confined premise and the targeted ambition of his drama.
I don't know about his bias with male characterization, I didn't give much thoughts to this and I've only seen half of his filmography.

February 16, 2006 5:57 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Harry. Nice comments. I enjoyed them.

Sorry, I can't respond in great detail. Things have been a little crazy lately.
For now, let me just say a couple of things:

Response to violence (and to representations of violence) is not at all a simple thing.
Violence (and its representations) can have many effects on people.
It can be: horrific and shocking, cathartic, justified, thrilling, even arousing.
We may not always want to admit we have these responses but I would argue that we do.
Haneke only tells us (reductively) what response we should have to violence. (I already know this--I don't need him to tell me this). Thus, his simplistic didacticism.
A director like Cronenberg shows me this vast range of response without judgment. (He trusts us to know that violence is bad and horrific but also knows that the human unconscious doesn't respond to violence in this simplistic way, excluding all other "improper" repsonses.)

Re: didiactism, I was talking primarily about Funny Games.
"How does it help if the film is mysterious, truncated, obfuscated, without conclusion/denouement?"
I'm sorry but I don't see Funny Games as any of these things.
And any "ambiguities" it might have seem quite schematic and contrived to me.
(And...I like this film!) :-)
Someday I should write about all the reasons why I like Funny Games! :-)
So far, I've only poured critique on it.
(But it's perfectly OK to critique films we like!)

"The moral you draw from Funny Games is more a layered subtext that you figured yourself with your film culture and your intertextual analysis. It's not really a message spelled out by a character."

Not true.
Haneke has explicitly talked about this in interviews. (Can't recall specific references now but I'll look for them when I get a chance.)

Thanks, Harry.

February 16, 2006 9:32 PM  
Blogger Eric Henderson said...

Eric mentioned he despised Funny Games. I wonder what his reasons were...

Initial reasons. Usually, being able to ignore being patronized by auto-critical super-violent films is a blind spot of mine. (Must be for me to count Cannibal Holocaust as one of my favorite-older-films-seen-for-a-first-time-in-2005.) But both Hostel and Funny Games both gouged my eyes against the grain, tho.

February 17, 2006 12:42 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Great entry, Eric. Thanks for the link.
And I'd never even heard of Cannibal Holocaust.

February 17, 2006 7:27 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

You'd think Netflix would make things easier by having a cannibal sub-section under Horror. At least they now have a section titled "Italian Horror". Big Alligator River has Barbara Bach and Mel Ferrer if one is looking for an excuse to sample this genre.

February 17, 2006 8:34 AM  
Blogger Dennis Cozzalio said...

Girish: I'm late to posting comments on everyone's pieces, but I wanted to say that I really appreciated your take and your form on Code Unknown. Just when we (or at least I) was starting to worry that the responses would seem much more similar than they eventually did (and that I personally wouldn't have much to say), your post came along and distinguished itself. I really enjoyed it, and I really enjoyed seeing how dissimilar (despite some inevitable similarities) the 11 or so entries really were. However it shakes out, this blog-a-thon is a train on which I'm glad to be riding. A suggestion for further consideraton down the road: in light of the new DVD of David Lean's Ryan's Daughter, I thought this one, being one of the more critically dismissed in Lean's oeuvre, might be a ripe one for revisitation, as critical attitudes toward it (my own included) haven't changed much since originally seeing it years ago.

Have a wonderful weekend!

February 17, 2006 6:54 PM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Girish, just caught up with this comments thread. Fantastic observation about Cache, which I just saw. I think you are right; giving Anne the secret might have made for a richer movie (though I liked it a lot the way it was). Would Anne, like George, have become progressively less sympathetic as the movie went on?

Dennis: I would be all over a Ryan's Daughter blog-a-thon. Over at my place I just suggested Lana Turner, with no very lively hope of success, but hey, it's worth a shot. :)

February 17, 2006 7:24 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you for your words, Dennis.
And thanks to both you and Campaspe for the blog-a-thon suggestions.
Others should feel free to leave suggestions too if they like.

February 18, 2006 3:52 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"Would Anne, like George, have become progressively less sympathetic as the movie went on?"
Campaspe, I would argue the reverse, based upon the character trajectories in all the three Haneke films which feature women as protagonists or semi-protagonists: Isabelle Huppert in Piano Teacher & Time Of The Wolf; and Juliette Binoche in Code Unknown. Their characters all gain in complexity as the film proceeds and are greatly sympathetic at film's close. I can't think of a single Haneke film with a male protagonist that I can say that about.

February 18, 2006 3:58 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

"Representations of violence" was the phrase I was looking for. ;)
I know I might have been a little exaggerating by disagreeing with you about that, I had another point in mind. There are many effects of violence on people, that I agree, but it is usually limited and determined given the situation and the person involved. That's why I suggested only more characters could bring a greater range of reactions. Brains under the influence of violence freeze on one reaction and stick to it.

"Haneke only tells us (reductively) what response we should have to violence."
What is that? That we shouldn't watch horror films? That serial killers are evil and cannot be trusted? That we should not open our door to strangers asking for eggs? The story in Funny Games is too exceptional and exaggerated to issue any general lesson about violence, and isn't any more didactic than Silence of the Lambs.
If you use A History of Violence for comparison on this point, I thought the involvement of the entire family with each their own violent situation like if the initial attack had spread some kind of epidemy on the family, was rather campy.

I had the impression you qualified Haneke's entire oeuvre of "didactism".


Your suggestion to make Binoche the lead of the subjective narrative instead of Auteuil in Caché would make an interesting film indeed, probably less "problematic".


Eric,
What "class dialogue" are you talking about? the 2 killers are polite and well mannered because they are from the idle bourgeois youth, not from low social class. The film is a satire of the upper class by means of characerisation but the action itself is hardly a way to challenge their values... anybody would react the same way to such immoral violence. I must have missed the gay references too. As for the Sophie's choice...

February 18, 2006 10:52 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

I would have prefered the family in Caché to continue to speculate on who was the mysterious tape-sender without investigating a lead. The relationship between the feeling of being observed for an unknown purpose and the wild imagination to figure who that could be would be a much more fascinating pind game of collective paranoia for a subversive thriller. No resolution and no suspect either, just the pure tension and how it destroys the family ties.

February 18, 2006 10:57 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Harry, for the comments.

Haneke fever is spreading: Dipanjan delves into Cache.
And Darren's coinage ("blog-a-thon") is spreading too.

February 19, 2006 7:15 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

ok time to "agree to disagree"...

February 19, 2006 6:23 PM  
Blogger girish said...

And that's perfectly OK, Harry. :-)
As usual, I enjoyed reading your take...

February 19, 2006 8:09 PM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Girish, just to clarify, because my question was ambiguous: I completely agree, I don't think Anne would have become progressively less sympathetic, either. By the end of the film I have to say I really loathed George. The only other Haneke I have seen was the impressive "Piano Teacher"; I can't say I sympathized with Huppert, given the way she mutilates a student, but certainly I pitied her from the bottom of my heart. Whereas George, well, by the end I was all for whoever was harassing him.

February 19, 2006 9:48 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"Whereas George, well, by the end I was all for whoever was harassing him." LOL.
I must say that after the young man turns on Huppert at the end, and I slowly realized how monstrous her mom was, I started to gain sympathy for her.

February 19, 2006 10:04 PM  
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