Contempory Obscurity: The Glaciation Trilogy
by Mike Dawson
Left Field Cinema
Michael Haneke, German born modern auteur, best known for his more recent works that have pleased art house crowds the world around. Funny Games and Hidden pushed Haneke’s work to the centre stream of art house and world cinema. His other works around this time, like Code Unknown and Time of the Wolf may have fallen into further obscurity, and his shot for shot remake Funny Games U.S. was arguably pointless. His masterpiece is still The Piano Teacher which will doubtlessly be examined in a future episode of Left Field Cinema, but for this week let us look back at three films he produced earlier in this career, they represent his second, third and fourth feature films as a director. They establish many of Haneke’s rules or visual trademarks, an all encompassing style he has adopted and made his own, they also establish one of the principles of the majority of Haneke’s corpus - to critique a social ill. Haneke’s films often follow anthropocentrism to its most violent, ambivalent and destructive conclusion.
The Glaciation Trilogy comprises of three films, The Seventh Continent released in 1989, Benny’s Video released in 1992 and 71 Fragments of the Chronology of Chance released in 1994. Starting with The Seventh Continent which is arguably the best of the three films, its plot focuses on a family of three who form a perfect picture of the Austrian bourgeois, the patriarch George is an engineer, and his wife Anna is an optician, they have a young gifted daughter Eva. There are no financial worries, no security issues, no sexual or marital disagreements. However there is an indeterminate undertone to their lives, they seem to exist in vacuous construct of materialistic and fiscal concerns. Their lives are rooted in the mundane, centered on the television or the working routine. Through the first hour of the film we are painfully forced to watch as this middle class family goes no where and does nothing of any significance, their lives are devoid of meaning, emotional, physical, or spiritual. They are stuck in a perpetual cycle of monotony and repetition, cleaning, feeding, working, sleeping – this is all life has to offer them. The opening shot of the film acts as a perfect stylistic and thematic example of what is to come, the family in question ride in their car through a car wash, for as long as a car wash takes in reality, Haneke’s camera doesn’t break its coverage of this activity and we are forced to watch time slip away for these three whilst they do nothing but watch their car (a soulless inanimate object) being cleaned by the car wash (another soulless inanimate object). Their lives are fractured and disconnected, they feel no or little emotion for one and other, Eva pretends to have lost her eyesight at school once she’s admitted that she’s pretending Anna slaps her daughter across the face, not considering or not caring about what had driven Eva to embark on such a deception which in all likeliness was a cry for attention. The first half of The Seventh Continent can be quite an arduous experience, however Haneke slowly ratchets up the tension through the mesmerising second half as George, Anna and to a lesser extent Eva, systematically destroy everything which is entrapping them, every connection to the modern world, every tie which binds them to their never ending cycle of unfulfilling activities and superficial relationships. They destroy their post modern house, they break, smash and decimate every object, every material procession they’ve collected over the years. They kill their pet fish, they flush their money down the toilet in an effort to cleanse themselves of capitalism, materialism, and modern life. The second half is engaging but intensely difficult to watch as you’re never quite sure what George and Anna will do next, when or how this path of destruction will end. Haneke is known for brutalizing his characters so that their unfeeling ways lead to acts of sudden and vicious acts of violence. Haneke’s reputation for violence, his lack of sympathy for the outcomes of his protagonists give all of his films an unquantifiable tension which emanates from no where other than Haneke’s own reputation. The Seventh Continent is not immune to this oppressive tension and at times towards the films climax it can become unbearable.
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