Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. Austria, 1997. Filmfonds Wien, Wega Film, Österreichischer Rundfunk, Österreichisches Filminstitut. Screenplay by Michael Haneke. Cinematography by Jurgen Jurges. Produced by Veit Heiduschka. Production Design by Christoph Kanter. Costume Design by Lisy Christl. Film Editing by Andreas Prochaska. Cannes Film Festival 1997. Toronto International Film Festival 1997.
This searing drama by Michael Haneke is a great example of his incredibly intense and spare dramatic style. A bourgeois family go to their lakeside summer home and get ready for a pleasant season when they are visited by their neighbours’ house guest. At first simply asking to borrow a few eggs, the young man who has stopped by in his tennis whites suddenly turns hostile, then is joined by his sociopath friend who takes the couple (Ulrich Mühe and a stunning Susanne Lothar) and their young son hostage in their own home. They subject the family to their strange riddles and survival games as Haneke allows the victims to be abused not only by their attackers but by the camera itself, which confuses observation with voyeurism for an experience that will leave the viewer shaken at its conclusion. Remade ten years later, shot for shot, by Haneke with a Hollywood cast, the film is a particularly great experience for those who love the great director’s later work. He fuses his style with shades of Polanski as he employs manipulative techniques that he would, thankfully, later eschew (talking to the camera? How nineties); it’s great stuff, but it’s amateur work compared to what he would come up with in the years ahead.