Michael Haneke – Funny Games (1997)



What do you do if a stranger comes to your home and politely asks to borrow some eggs?

So far, it doesn’t sound like a good film, but Funny Games isn’t a good film. There’s no way it can be middle-of-the-road, it’s either brilliant or awful, depending on your point of view. Consider that when this film was first shown at Cannes, a lot of the audience walked out, including some professional film critics. In short, this is a film you need to see to have any true appreciation of how it works. I could describe everything that happens in minute detail, and still not impart what actually happens.

Okay, the basic premise of the plot is as follows: a family (Georg the father, Anna the mother, Georgy the son and Rolfi the dog) take their boat to their lakeside holiday home. On the way past their neighbour’s gate, they see their friends on the lawn with two young men, both wearing golf whites and gloves. Of course, we’d expect a thriller film to have elements that deliberately feel wrong, and this strangely sinister picture is emphasised when their friends seem reluctant to talk to them about their golf plans for the next day.

Whilst this reticence is odd, the family think nothing of it and continue on, going through the typical humdrum of unpacking the gear from the car. Suddenly, the neighbour from next door comes over and with him comes one of the young men, introduced as the son of a business associate. Well, that’s alright then. They give Georg and his son a hand to get the boat in the water whilst Anna potters around in the kitchen. Everything’s serene, and Haneke takes advantage of this feeling throughout the film, with long, single camera shots that slow the action down to make you think. Themes are introduced for later; the child borrows a sharp knife which ends up on the floor of the boat, Anna is talking to friends who may be coming to join them in a couple of hours.Then the other young man comes and knocks on the door, wanting to borrow some eggs.

If you’re still reading, you should definitely see this film. In fact, if you’re no longer reading you should definitely see this film.Yet to tell any more of the plot gives away both nothing and everything. Funny Games sees Paul and Peter, the two young men, engage the family in a series of deadly, terrifying and twisted games, all as part of a bet.

Haneke is known for his stance on the topic of violence and realism within his films, and it’s a topic that is openly discussed within the plot. Whilst he makes an extremely strong commitment to being artistic in his portrayals of the characters, he also injects an enormous amount of realism, and from this the film really develops a character of its own.

As the film needs to be digested as a whole, there is one scene in particular that is terrible. You’ll know which one when you get to it, as there’s no way that you can’t hate it when it happens. However, when the credits roll to an awesome (if disturbed) soundtrack, the scene suddenly makes perfect sense, and you’ll know why it was done, and see that this is a film that manipulates you. The pacing is perfect, the script is tight and the performances are little less than astounding.

Now, without trying to sound too ‘woe is me’, reviewing this film is an extremely difficult task; I’ve run out of words because I don’t want to give anything away, and to explain why the film is as good as it is requires going into those spoiling details. So, to take an unusual direction; let’s have a quick word on how this film should be watched. You’ll have gathered that this isn’t a film you watch casually – you’ll want to be awake and prepared to concentrate on the subtitles and the action simultaneously. Although it’s not a drab chore to watch, it’s vastly enjoyable to appreciate. I cannot stress enough that you should watch it with somebody, not because you’ll need someone to cover your eyes during the scary bits, but because you will want to talk about it afterwards; it’s impossible to just stop watching this film and go to bed – you will ask questions. Good questions.

In short, if you want explosions and non-stop action, you’ll already be looking elsewhere, but this is a film that will change your perspective of almost any other film you watch, make you fear golf, and stop you from ever lending eggs to anybody.


Language(s):German, French, Italian