23 October 2007 | Axel-9
When I heard Michael Haneke was re-making Funny Games in America I wondered why: what purpose could it possibly serve? The set-up to both versions is simple in that a bourgeois family is subjected to a torturous ordeal by a couple of ever so polite psychopaths. Moreover, like the original the re-make is a cruel exercise in exposing our fascination with the violence depicted in the media - the "our" specifically meaning the middle classes, comfortable in our existences and oblivious to the horrors of the world.
However, Haneke is on record as saying that he always considered Funny Games to be an "American story", as he regarded the use of violence as a form of entertainment to be a specifically American phenomenon. No matter that this is a bit of a flawed viewpoint: having the aggressors seem straight out of the O.C. gives the impact of their sadistic actions an even more discomfiting air. Michael Pitt (charismatic and barbarous) and Brady Corbett (seemingly dopey but utterly vicious) are both excellent, but their performances leave one feeling a bit um "seen it all before".
Which takes me back to my first thought: what is the point? Cosmetics aside this is exactly the same film, right down to the assumption that the well to do like to listen to classical music and that the audience may be unsettled by playing them some thrash metal. Haneke even has Pitt address the camera and manipulate the film, so re-using the trick about playing with reality and focusing the viewer on what actually counts as real. It is just that this playing around does not carry the impact it did 10 years ago.
In fact, due to the unconventional nature of the film and the vast disparity it offers with reality it's hard to care much at all. Yes what happens is horrible, but it does not feel at all real. I'm waiting for someone to point out that, that is Haneke's point, but frankly, I don't care. No amount of intellectualising can make this watchable.
You would think Haneke would know better too. His most recent film Hidden took a genre film and flipped it about to deliver one of the most surprising and intellectually challenging thrillers of the decade. By stringing the audience along and offering some sense of catharsis and understanding of character motivation he offered a way in. Funny Games U.S. offers no such intrigue or tension and is ultimately a big step backward. He may see it as an American story, but it worked better as a small Austrian film, set in anywheres-ville Europe.