The Seventh Continent

After many years directing films for television, Funny Games director, Michael Haneke, made his debut with what is the first in the trilogy of his “emotional glaciation” films. 1989’s The Seventh Continent makes stylistically and thematically explicit the nature of his filmmaking in what is a work which, as you can glean from the trilogy linkage, a bleak and haunting piece. This “based on a true story” film places a family as the subject of a subdued and paradoxically pointed social commentary drama, where the mundanity of modern life proves insufferable as the film breaks to be a familial and societal horror story.

Husband Georg (Dieter Berner), wife Anna (Birgit Doll) and daughter Eva (Leni Tanzer) are the family unit living a middle-class existence in suburban Austria. Their lives are that of conformity, aided by the usual trappings of modern living. The parents both work and Eva goes to school. They rise to the sound of the alarm clock at 6 each morning, ready for another day. Dressed and breakfasted, they each unquestioningly attend their respective institutions. They wash their car, go to the supermarket, listen to the radio, watch TV, the parents have sex. Eva, though, feigns blindness in a move which proves an eye-opener for the mother, an indication that you only have to scratch at the wipe-clean surface to reveal the stench of disaffection. Maybe a move to Australia is what the family needs.

Similarly to American Beauty, Haneke’s own tale of existential alienation sees the introverted vacuousness lead to a shock conclusion. Though the drama of cultural disaffection is played to like effect, The Seventh Continent is vastly different from the Sam Mendes film which came a decade later. There isn’t the gloss, plot or characterisation to Haneke’s film. Strangely, we barely know this combusting family, though we bear witness to a very personal destruction. The social displacement experienced by them is conveyed with a stark voyeurism which feels conversely both uncomfortably open but also detached. It is almost with gratitude that we receive this detached status as Haneke works away toward a conclusion that leaves you feeling emotionally winded. Those who cannot abide an unhappy ending will not be catered for here, as the plan for emigration to Australia is confounded by a turn which gives an emotional punch of such severity that it almost feels below the belt.

Bluntly put, this is a very depressing film, though one which rewards upon reflection as the almost imperceptible set-up yields gentle indications. But you can perceive Haneke’s leanings, you just must detect through the grey areas and the edges for what is purposefully lacking in conformed narrative construction. In an emptiness that portrays the family’s social isolation and cultural dissatisfaction, we have very little expressionism of any form, including dialogue. Voices seem as if disembodied as shots focus on objects and tasks. Much of the film takes place in real-time as we are forced to feel just how dully draining this repetition can be. Some will find this boring, but, surely all will feel successfully emotionally glaciated by the end of it all.

Not for the emotionally squeamish, this downbeat and stark family drama acutely portrays the futility of modern life. An unassumingly powerful film.


Hidden

Back in February, following The Seventh Continent I found myself vowing not to watch another Michael Haneke film for reasons that, though I found him to be a very talented director, I disagreed with his repetitious animal slaughter. (Not only slaughter, but seemingly dwelt-upon suffering for his arrogant self-serving ‘artistic’ purposes.) I was always keen to watch Hidden (Caché), and had heard nothing about animal slaughter so, believing him to be the aforementioned talented director, I thought it was worth a shot. How wrong I was on both counts. Know, reader, that this is a film which not only needlessly sacrifices life for art, but is also an awful film, and one which seriously causes me to question my previous statements on Haneke’s directorial ability.

Very much ‘borrowing’ from David Lynch’s Lost Highway, Hidden purports the premise of doorstep-delivered video’s of the home of cultured couple, Georges and Anne Laurent (the ubiquitous Daniel Auteuil and the classy Juliette Binoche.) Clearly disturbed, the married partners, parents to 12-year old Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky,) have no clue as to who would send such things or why. It becomes apparent, however, that Georges is harbouring secrets which could pertain to the mystery.

Barely in my life have I ever seen anything so pretentious and simultaneously so utterly devoid of substance. But who will say that this is a bad film? Certainly not the critics, for this is Michael Haneke, don’t you know, as they dish-out the awards and nominations for what they’ve all been blindsided into thinking is a quality piece of World Cinema. And who will argue? Lest we be tagged with the dunce-label of ‘not getting it’, appearing to be philistines for we cannot, for the life of us, figure out what on earth was the point of such a shamefully self-indulgent failure? Not only is this film fatuous, but far too long, dull, excruciatingly pointless and a criminal misuse of a potentially (and previously) potently explored premise.

So bad is this film, in fact, that it almost doesn’t even warrant extensive deconstruction. Any Haneke fan will know that he is often about touching the void  with his content, yet here is a case of all void with no pregnant vacancy, just empty pretentions, severlely misjudged opportunities, and guff of the highest order. Supposedly an exploration of guilt and morality, the only thing Haneke succeeded in exploring were the furthest reaches of my boredom, frustration, and point of view that World Cinema is so often capable of being overrated vacuousness.  The should-have-been classic performances were anything but with nothing to work from (almost meaningless plot and similar, dull dialogue (and no, I’m not mistaking well thought out minimal, intelligent script for poorly-written, boredom-inducing nonsense)), the plot is wafer-thin, the supposedly disturbing tone is nil, and the outcome, resolution and body of the film is nought from start to finish. Anybody who’s not fond of an open ending should steer clear. And that’s not open in a thinky, Lynchian way, it’s just frustrating, anger-enducing arrogance. Wholly disinteresting and overrated…and yes, I do get it.

An absolute exercise in futility and a waste of supposed ‘talent’, Hidden precisely encompasses everything I hate about the pretentions of the label of ‘World Cinema.’  I’m a fan of the wider genre of ‘World Cinema,’ but this is one of the most irritating and thoroughly terrible pieces of shit I’ve ever seen 3/10 (and I’m erring on the side of generosity here.) Go watch Lost Highway instead.


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