Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Benny's Video (1992)

Obviously a passkey to much of Michael Haneke's later work, as the obsession with the video image, to the point of advanced alienation (Benny only relates to things through their video counterparts, so that, say, a vacation is experienced by him second-hand even as he's experiencing it first-hand), points forward to the meta-nihilism of Funny Games and the cryptic threats of Caché even as the use of violence and detached destruction as a symptom of soul-crushing class friction refines the thematic heart of The Seventh Continent. I just wish it didn't fall apart in its final third -- Haneke runs along with his formal mastery (the most disturbing line in the final is a banal, "Please be quiet") and his thematic dexterity (the connection between commerce and killing is illustrated by a seemingly-unimportant pyramid scheme being run at Benny's school, with money passing virally like violence) as far as he can go with the story he has, but he pulls the trigger far too early, so the main plot is concluded after roughly an hour. Thus, the third-act trip to Africa, which should be a wellspring of bourgeoisie discomfort but instead just turns into a way to stretch the film to feature length. This is still very much the work of a world-class artist finding his bearings, and it's fascinating as such. But it could have been so much more, really.

Grade: B-


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