Thursday, September 11, 2008

THE SEVENTH CONTINENT (Michael Haneke, 1989, Austria) A spiritually apathetic but affluent couple empty themselves of all humanity and fills the poisonous void with well-structured destruction: Their will is the desire for nothingness. Their young daughter, too naïve to understand such philosophical distinctions, becomes a victim to this vacuum of despair and senseless anxiety. Michael Haneke takes us on a corrupted nihilistic excursion through the last few days of their lives; we experience their routine, visit their jobs and families, and become a brief companion in their activities. The film begins in a car wash with the characters as silhouettes, shadows trapped within a metal and glass cage, as the water attacks their prison and washes away the filth, if only temporarily. As they drive away, they pass a travel poster for Australia with an image of a beach: but it looks like a rock-strewn landscape from another dimension. We revisit this visual with moving images and deafening sound later as part of a dream, an ethereal jaunt to complete nothingness, their destination of non-existence. Though the first half seems to be a mundane domestic drama, Haneke’s cinematography bleeds with a despairing undercurrent: he shows us close-ups of the family eating breakfast, their ride to work and school, even their interaction with each other…. but he doesn’t show us their faces for twenty minutes of film time. The characters are often diminishing from the camera, walking away, and becoming less human. This subliminal effect contrasts the extreme close-ups of their mundane functions and creates void, an emotional wasteland that is a barrier to their innermost feelings. When we finally enter into their lives and see them as a complete family unit, they are already on the road to self-implosion. The little girl’s isolation surfaces as psychosomatic illnesses, a tiny being who has no choice, who becomes victim to cankerous love. The final twenty minutes is the deconstruction of three lives: they smash, rip, tear, flush, pound, and cut their umbilical cord to prosperity leaving little trace of their existence, their mark upon the world becomes a bloodstain. Taped to a window, a note to their parents offers a blank explanation. Haneke takes us on a journey that leads to nowhere, the seventh continent of Lacuna, he offers no answers. And explains Nothing. (B+)

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