Déjà vu all over again An Americanised still jolts, but that’s about it, writes
FUNNY GAMES Directed by Michael Haneke. Starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Boyd Gaines, Siobhan Fallon Funny Games Donald Clarke
release, 107 min A DECADE ago Gus Van Sant directed a very odd remake of Psycho. While numbering the film’s abundant flaws, some critics suggested that Gus had, perhaps, deviated too little from Hitchcock’s original. But surely the opposite was the case. How interesting it would be to see a film-maker really
16 cert, lim attempt a shot-by-shot remake of a successful picture. What would be lost? Could anything be gained?
Michael Haneke’s absurdly faithful remake of his own Funny Games (1997) offers some meditations on those questions. The action has moved from Austria to the US, but the story remains the same.
A bourgeois couple, played by Tim Roth and Naomi Watts, make their way to a lakeside lodge for a relaxing weekend of boating with their son. Before they have time to settle in, two arrogant middle- class youths manoeuvre their way into the kitchen and take the family hostage. Stopping occasionally to deliver sly asides to the audience, the youths act out a drama that has things to say about attitudes to casual violence in popular culture.
Though Haneke does drop in some (deliberately?) inappropriate female nudity, the picture is as close to a shot-by-shot remake of the original as any even partially sane director could manage. And, sure enough, it proves interesting to consider how changing the decade and the location alters the emphasis.
Certain cultural and technological references have become dreadfully outmoded: the kids allude to Beavis and Butthead; when time goes backwards it does so in the manner of a rewinding VHS machine. More intriguingly, translating the action to a posh section of the United States allows the kidnappers (played in Persil white by Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt) to take on the quality of a latter-day Leopold and Lowe.
No longer aping American pop culture, but, rather, ingesting it at source, the new invaders seem less foolish and, disconcertingly, somewhat more glamorous than their European predecessors.
Funny Games’ problem – and this has not changed – is that it works too well as a thriller for its finger-wagging denunciations of cinematic violence to be taken seriously. The new film is dated, didactic and hectoring, but it is also revoltingly gripping. Indeed, Beavis and Butthead might very well find it totally, like, cool and stuff. Heh, heh, heh.