Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Seventh Continent

1989, Austria, directed by Michael Haneke (original title: Der Siebente Kontinent)

Michael Haneke's first feature film bears the hallmarks of a far more experienced director, already adept at discomfiting his audience; he's absolutely in control of the material in recounting, with horrifying precision, the progressive alienation of a seemingly ordinary family. The first of a trilogy of films on (his view of) the malaise dogging contemporary Austria, The Seventh Continent is formally adept, using repetition of visual motifs to establish a sense of the grey routine besetting his characters, and not incidentally unsettling the viewer by holding up a mirror to similar patterns in our own daily lives (though it's open to question whether the structure illustrates the artist's bias against those with routine jobs, or his rebellion against routine more broadly). At times the onscreen family seems relatively content, but Haneke gradually subverts the notion of a happy family in ways large and small - and, near the end, in tones of the blackest humour. It's easy to imagine what such potentially sensationalistic subject matter might have become in less rigorous hands, but here Haneke pitilessly observes, and shares with us, the destruction of every conceivable aspect of this family's existence, with an insistent and often distressing realism.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States