Funny Games

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Director: Michael Haneke; Release date: 4 April

In Funny Games, Michael Haneke revisits his earlier Austrian film of the same name, but this time sets it in the US. The central characters are a family who live their lives in gated mansions (and holiday homes) and the film examines what happens when inexplicably random violence gets inside the gate.

This is no ordinary thriller, although given that the plot involves a family being taken hostage with their lives threatened, it does work well on that level. Naomi Watts and Tim Roth give great performances as the adults in the family, and Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet are chilling as the well-mannered intruders.

Funny Games is an exploration of violence in cinema and it wears this intention on its sleeve. The violence itself rarely happens on screen, the camera instead focuses on the characters' reactions to events. The family members are each brutalised to varying degrees but we experience this through the witnesses rather than viewing it directly.

Haneke uses this and several other techniques - some of which play with conventions of cinema, and others break the conventions outright - to force the audience to examine their relationship to what they are watching. On several occasions the intruders address the audience through the camera directly, asking questions such as, "Have you seen enough yet? Should we carry on?"

The audience are consistently prodded to remember that it is a film they are watching and the violence is very much a product. No proper motive is ever offered to either the victims or the audience. Haneke doesn't want us to understand the reasons for the violence. Perhaps if we understood it we could too easily explain it away or defend ourselves against it.

A critic and friend of Haneke said of the remake, "Now the film is where it belongs." It certainly raises many interesting questions about how and why violence has become so easily consumable in most Hollywood productions. Perhaps more disturbing is the question that, if violence is so repulsive, why are we paying to watch it?

Whether it needed to be remade in English with US actors to achieve this is another matter. By remaking the film himself, Haneke has avoided the expected sanitisation that comes with most Hollywood remakes and the integrity of the first version remains intact. The film should now stand a chance of reaching the wider audience the director intended.