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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

entry arrow7:37 AM | Haneke and Violence in Cinema

I should begin by confessing that when I saw Eli Roth's Hostel many, many months back, I swore never to watch a movie like that again. That split-second shot of a character's Achilles' tendon severed with a knife still fills me with dread until today, and the scene remains the single most compelling imagery for me to never buy a ticket to or a DVD of Saw or Captivity and their ilk. I don't find torture-porn scary at all, no matter how much they label these films as "horror movies." They just simply delight in being inhuman.

Grant me this at least: I am not a rabid censor against film violence. There is a place for that in cinema, and sometimes, like in films by Sam Peckinpah or Quentin Tarantino or John Woo or John Carpenter or Francis Ford Coppola or Stanley Kubrick, they can be handled well. Sure, violence is often packaged as a commodity for "entertainment" in these films, and sure, in many ways the happy endings we allow ourselves in films where the victim gets vengeance against violator is a self-righteous attempt to bring "meaning" to our secret bloodlust. I get this.

But...

There will be cinephiles out there -- especially those who delight in their own "uniqueness" for knowing and embracing the obscure and the difficult -- who will probably find this post quite philistine. I don't care. You see, when I stumbled sometime ago into the stark world of Michael Haneke's cinema, I found a lot about Cache and The Piano Teacher (his two most popular films to date) utterly disturbing -- but ultimately they seemed to me to be very intelligent, if unsettling, explorations into human darkness and our own complicities in our fascination for violation. So I moved on to other Haneke films -- because, you know, I'm a film snob who just have to watch everything. I watched Le Temps du Loup. Then the original Funny Games. (An American remake has just hit theaters.) Then Benny's Video. Pause here. The last two were unbearably inhuman, and actually dared to cloak themselves as psychological theses, supposed slaps against generic Hollywood entertainment. Watching Funny Games was like watching Salo or Hostel all over again -- but this time Haneke's films has an added feel of being smug about being "intellectual" about it all. At least Roth is more honest: he just delights in making his sick cinematic violations. Mr. Haneke's protestations just ring false. I don't buy it, all his posturing.

The films made me I'm sick.

Sick, sick.

So yeah, Mr. Haneke, you're a self-aware genius. That remote control scene in Funny Games? Ohhhhh. You must have patted yourself in the back for that brilliant conception, eh? So yeah, we get that you're making a point about violence as commodity, and perversity as fascination. We get it. We get it when you let us linger over that scene in Benny's Video where the girl gets it, again and again, until she dies like the metaphorical pig you showed us. And to have the camera linger not on the act itself but via the television screen! With most of the violence occurring just out of the frame! Ohhhhh....

Utter b.s. Because there is a palpable suggestion of your own secret, perverse delight in your self-righteous rebuke of us all -- a careless illustration of having one's cake and eating it, too. Your films are just a prettied-up Hostel for film snobs. What a fraud.

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