So after seeing Caché (2005) recently, and realizing that I am fascinated with Michael Haneke’s stories and directing style, I decided to devote some time to watching his films. All of them, in order, if possible.
The Seventh Continent and Benny’s Video are the first two films in Haneke’s so-called “Glaciation Trilogy”, which deals with “emotional glaciation”. It’s such a beautiful, concrete, spot-on term describing the unknowable malaise that affect the families in these two films, slowly but surely stripping them of life. The Seventh Continent in my opinion is the superior of the two, beginning with a shot of a family sitting inside their vehicle in a car wash. What is more pointless than sitting inside a car that is being washed by a machine? Why not just step out and do chores, read a book, enjoy the sunlight? But the family members themselves are like machines, and we feel the deadening effect of their days as we watch them prepare meals, go to work, go to school, eat breakfast, pay at the cashier. If they are happy doing these things we do not know, because Haneke frames the shots in such a way that we only see their torsos. Maybe their eyes are so dead that they are not worth filming. The repetitive shots of cashiers’s fingers typing the prices of the objects they buy at the grocery – like all the other shots that seem so pointless and yet such a part of our own daily lives – become meaningful and sad in hindsight, after we witness the third act. Anne, the mother, only shows emotion in the grocery after the decision (I must not tell you); when the grocer asks, “Are you having a lot of people over?”, Anne bites into a piece of chocolate, her face bright, suddenly so full of life and purpose, and says no.
The brilliance of The Seventh Continent must have spoiled me, because I felt nothing for Benny’s Video. I love the clinical precision of the cinematography, but – and this is disturbing to say – it’s supposed to be shocking but it no longer shocks me, having been shocked by Haneke before. Benny is a 14-year-old boy who is so in love with videos that he’d rather watch a live video feed of the street outside rather than look out of the window. It’s about disconnected youth, a well-off family who only looks closer when something horrible happens, but these are topics that have been tackled before in cinema and elsewhere. I was hoping the film could give me some new insight, but instead it shows a boy watching violent films and listening to metal. (Although one can argue that Benny is a born psychopath attracted to violent media.) It felt too simplistic, and said nothing new to me.