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One of contemporary cinema’s most original, provocative, and uncompromising filmmakers, Austrian auteur Michael Haneke dares viewers to stare into the void of modern existence. With his first three theatrical features, The Seventh Continent, Benny’s Video, and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance—a trilogy depicting a coldly bureaucratic society in which genuine human relationships have been supplanted by a deep-seated collective malaise—Haneke established the rigorous visual style and unsettling themes that would recur throughout his work. Exploring the relationships among consumerism, violence, mass media, and contemporary alienation, these brilliant, relentlessly probing films open up profound questions about the world in which we live while refusing the false comfort of easy answers.
The Seventh Continent
The day-to-day routines of a seemingly ordinary Austrian family (Birgit Doll, Dieter Berner, and Leni Tanzer) begin to take on a sinister complexion in Michael Haneke’s chilling portrait of bourgeois anomie giving way to shocking self-destruction. Inspired by a true story, the director’s first theatrical feature finds him fully in command of his style, observing with rigorous, clinical detachment the spiritual emptiness at the heart of consumer culture—and the horror that lurks beneath its placid surfaces. The Seventh Continent builds to an annihilating encounter with the televisual void that powerfully synthesizes Haneke’s ideas about the link between violence and our culture of manufactured emotion.
Michael Haneke turns the unflinching gaze of the camera back on itself in this provocative, profoundly disturbing study of emotional disconnection in the age of mass-media saturation. Benny (a frighteningly affectless Arno Frisch), the teenage son of wealthy, disengaged parents (Angela Winkler and Ulrich Mühe), finds release in the world of violent videos—an obsession that leads him to create his own monstrous work of real-life horror. Layering screens within screens and digital frames within the filmic frame, Benny’s Video is a coolly postmodern, metacinematic labyrinth in which the boundaries between actual and mediated violence become terrifyingly indistinguishable.
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance
The simultaneously random and interconnected nature of modern existence comes into harrowing focus in the despairing final installment of Michael Haneke’s trilogy. Seventy-one intricate, puzzlelike scenes survey the routines of a handful of seemingly unrelated people—including an undocumented Romanian boy (Gabriel Cosmin Urdes) living on the streets of Vienna, a couple (Anne Bennent and Udo Samel) who are desperate to adopt a child, and a college student (Lukas Miko) on the edge—whose stories collide in a devastating encounter at a bank. The omnipresent drone of television news broadcasts in 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance underscores Haneke’s vision of a numb, dehumanizing world in which emotional estrangement can be punctured only by the shock of sudden violence.