Funny Games (1997 + 2007)
Veteran director Michael Haneke's 1997 French language film Funny Games is far more intelligent than it's concept suggests. A brutal, bare-bones story of an innocent family engaged in a series of cruel, sadistic games by two young men, it provides little respite from its utterly depressing tone and increasingly shocking imagery. While this may be enough to put off many from ever watching it, and it was understandably controversial on its release and still is today, those who stick around will find a smart commentary on modern day perceptions of violence along with a superbly tense script and masterfully orchestrated scenes that, under any one else, could easily have been diluted into a mundane horror mess.
The key component of Haneke's film is its ability to manipulate seemingly mundane, almost darkly comic situations into downright disturbing depictions of exploitation. The two young men, Peter (Frank Giering) and Paul (Arno Frisch), initially appear a little odd and unsettling, with both dressed all in white and almost uncomfortably polite, but they don't seem to be harmful or even offensive.
The way they charm themselves into the household and swiftly turn the tables on the family is so subtly played that it is incredibly unsettling and almost too close to the bone in its casual nature.
Giering and Frisch play the balance just right too, veering between charm and sadism to maintain the appearance of polite neighbours while slowly turning the screw on the family. Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Muhe as wife Anna and husband Georg also strike a perfect balance of composure and hysteria, ensuring our sympathies remain firmly with them while our morbid curiosity is drawn to Peter and Paul.
But as the film progresses, it is clear Haneke is aiming to deliver a broader message. Paul's breaking of the fourth wall, turning to the camera to question the sympathies of the viewer and whether they deem this entertainment, is glorious in its ability to instantly unsettle and confront the audience, querying the limits they will place on such a film. In numerous interviews, Haneke has spoken of his intent to offer a commentary on modern society's often relaxed view of violence and Funny Games offers a perfect model of this idea. The exchanges between Peter and Paul are strangely compelling to watch, until you catch yourself almost laughing at two disturbing young sadists. Uncomfortable viewing indeed.
The sad (real-life) twist however is that Haneke decided, ten years after the release of the original, to remake Funny Games. This time in the English language, with Tim Roth and Naomi Watts re-cast as the innocent couple, it is a shot-for-shot remake with nearly the exact same dialogue and even the same aesthetics and costume design. And it is utterly, even depressingly pointless.
I am still baffled as to why Michael Haneke thought this was a good idea. Many people have suggested the original failed to reach a large enough audience and that Haneke believed an English version would compel more people to see it. But I think this is less of an explanation and more a damning commentary on the ignorance of many towards the wonders of foreign language films and the sustained refusal of cinema-goers to step even slightly out of their comfort zone. If anything, the 2007 version is even somewhat weaker than the original, with Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet a little too heavy-handed as Paul and Peter.
The remake is difficult to sit through but for a completely different reason to the original. Its whole existence as a film is so unnecessary to a frustrating degree. I have never understood the point of remakes as a whole but when they are literally shot-for-shot, with the same script and the same director, it is a whole new level of stupidity. Thank god we still have the original, a shocking depiction of the darkest depths of humanity that disturbs and unsettles with frightening ease. I hope it is clear which version you should stick with.