Wednesday, September 10, 2008

71 FRAGMENTS OF A CHRONOLOGY OF CHANCE (Michael Haneke, 1994, Austria)

Michael Haneke’s unflinchingly icy stare penetrates briefly into the lives of disparate families and their fatal encounter during a violent convergence of circumstances. He purposely creates an atmosphere of detachment, an unemotional connection to these characters though we become voyeur into their ordinary activities: they become nothing more than statistics, victims briefly mentioned on the nightly news.

Haneke structures the film into 71 brief segments that last a few seconds to a few minutes and transitioned by an abrupt and jarring cut to a black screen. His mise-en-scene editing demands continuous shots with minimal editing and static camera placement. He communicates through sound and objects; background TV broadcasts, banal dialogue, mundane items like a pair of shoes or socks, and the people themselves become objects, their sometimes erratic and spontaneous behavior scrutinized. A child’s game of pick-up-sticks becomes the narrative metaphor: a balance of skill and chance that becomes the vinculum of violence which ends the lives of three totally innocent bystanders.

Our transient journey through the lives of three families: a Security Guard, a husband and wife who adopt an immigrant child, and a bank teller and her elderly father, is contradictory. Haneke creates a sense of intimacy but never lets us get too close, he creates real people with uninteresting lives not much different than ours. He shatters the filmic convention of beautiful actors pretending to be ordinary…he immerses us into the commonplace, the stark existence of our own lives. But we the viewer are human and we do generate interest and empathy for the character’s plight, we do make the human connection. Even the killer surprises us, it is not whom we expect and the violence is not premeditated…it is just a senseless act.

Haneke does not show us the viscera, the bloodletting, or the victims; his focus is upon the act itself. After the gun’s rapport fades, we see an extreme close up of an unidentified body and a slowly forming pool of blood.The theme of glaciation that Haneke achieves is frightening: the film plays like an extended news story where the value of human life is only momentary before the next soundbyte catches our attention. The only brutal and bloody images we are shown are directly from newscasts that are not related to the story: the ubiquitous television is the purveyor of society’s desensitization. It is there for all to enjoy. Final Grade: (B)

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