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“Please, please keep me safe all through the night.”

I left the screening for Funny Games around noon, and I turned on my iPod once I got in the car. None of the shuffled songs seemed to meet my fancy, but after a minute, I heard something familiar:

“Why don’t we do it in the road?
Why don’t we do it in the road?
No one really watching us,
Why don’t we do it in the road?”

The driving beat and the bright lyrics set a stark contrast from the darkness of the movie I had just watched, yet I couldn’t help but realize how appropriate these words are in the context of the film. A yearning, a begging for an answer and a search for catharsis exist in both the film and the song.

Ann (Naomi Watts), her husband George (Tim Roth), and their son Georgie (Devon Gearhart) take a trip to the countryside for a vacation. Their idyllic vacation-home soon becomes a den of both physical and psychological torture at the hands of two supposed neighbors, Paul and Peter (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet). Everyone is fantastic in their roles, especially Pitt and Gearhart. Just watch the scene when Georgie points a gun at Paul with noise-rock playing in the background. It’s almost too chilling.

The brilliant Austrian director Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher, Caché) remakes his great 1997 film, which deals with media and the audience’s reaction. Despite being a shot-by shot remake, the more recent version contrasts wonderfully with the older one. The audience feels a certain distance from Ann and George because they are played by two big actors (Watts and Roth) in the new Funny Games as opposed to the Austrian original, whose actors are practically unknown in the States. The actors handle their characters differently enough from those in the previous version to keep the movie from feeling like a retread.

Haneke has said that he intends to “torture” rather than “entertain” the audience. It’s a great idea, considering how so many contemporary American directors (Quentin Tarantino, for one) try to use violence as a means of entertainment. Funny Games isn’t torturous in terms of being bad (like the recent 10,000 B.C.) but in terms of showing what violence is like. Even though the events are faked, one character asks, “If violence is real in your mind, is that the same thing as it being real?” Think of people who are dying to see the next installment of the infamous Faces of Death series or recent “torture porn” films like Hostel or Saw. Whether the violence is real or not doesn’t matter: if people are getting off on bloodshed or the degradation of others, something is wrong.

Even though the film has been getting both flattering and appalling reviews, any fan of the original (or of Michael Haneke, for that matter) should find something to enjoy about Funny Games (though it certainly is a love-it-or-hate-it affair). Sure, it’s pretentious and reflexive and contradictory. This consistent balancing act is what keeps Funny Games interesting, though, and the film deserves very high marks.

Rating: 8/10


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