Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Benny's Video (1992)

Title: Benny’s Video (1992)

Director: Michael Haneke

Writer: Michael Haneke

Cast: Arno Frisch, Angela Winkler, Ulrich Muhle


How many movies do you watch in a week? In a month? This is something that serious movie buffs out there sometimes don’t even consider, we just watch movies, sometimes not even realizing exactly how much time we spend watching them. There was a time when I watched two movies a day. And on weekends, Id even watch 3 a day! Something started to happen. Though sometimes I watched movies with friends and family, a lot of the times I was alone. Then I started realizing how disconnected from society I was becoming because of my movie watching. I made a conscious effort to change that a bit.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love watching my movies. I still watch movies like a mad man. But I’ve cut down my movie watching a bit because I started to realize that I wanted to experience life. I couldn’t spend so much time sitting on front of a television, locked up in a room, no matter how good the movie was. I came to the realization that I had to live my life, talk to other people, actually do things as opposed to watching others do them. And I have. I still watch a lot of movies, but I do it on a more controlled manner. Balancing my real life, with my cinematic escapism, cause that’s essentially what seeing a good movie is. Escaping from the real world. But what happens when you stay in the fantasy world for too long? You forget about your real life, which you should be out there living and enjoy as much as possible. So balance is important when it comes to watching movies. Just like anything else in life, balance is of the essence.

Benny’s Video is a film that plays with these themes. Benny is a teenager who lives his life locked up in his room, hiding away from the sunlight, watching movies and listening to music. He doesn’t even look out his window, instead, he has a video camera that tapes the front of his home and looks at that. He regularly visits his local video club and rents violent and gory and violent films like Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Cyborg (1989) and The Toxic Avenger (1984) which we see him watching at one point before he goes to sleep. One day, Benny apparently looses it and decides he wants to kill someone for real “just to see what its like”. So he goes about making it happen.

This is a movie about a boy who watches a lot of violent movies, he watches regular films too, proof of this is the poster for Another 48 Hours (1990) he has hanging on his bedroom wall, but he mostly watches violent stuff. Not only that, Benny's also amused by watching real life footage of violent acts, for example, he constantly re-watches a home video of a pig being killed with a bolt gun, same way Anton Chigurh would kill his victims in No Country for Old Men (2007). He is obsessed with that thrill of watching something forbidden. After a while, Benny's watched so much that everything he lives through is filtered through media, movies, and music. Now, Benny's tired of watching, now, Benny wants to live it. Sadly, what he wants to experience is what's he has seen in all those violent movies he loves to watch: taking another human life.

I haven’t seen many Haneke films (only seen this one and Cache (2005) so far) but I can already see a repetition of themes. He constantly addresses how the constant bombardment of media affects our psyche and our behavior. On Benny’s Video, Haneke is basically addressing how a person can be influenced by constantly watching violent images. I don’t know if I fully agree with this because I have seen thousands of violent gory horror images, yet I don’t feel the urge to pick up a chainsaw and dismember my neighbor with it. Because like many out there, I know how to differentiate between reality, and fiction. But we are all different, and I’m sure watching horror films or violent images can definitely affect each of us in different ways. I might watch a film like Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) and see it as an interesting character study of a psycho, but somebody else might watch it and see Henry as his role model, someone he or she might want to emulate. I guess only mature individuals who know how to tell the difference between fact and fiction should watch these types of films. They are definitely not for everybody.

But life is violent, and no matter how much you want to hide from it, violence and horror is everywhere you look. In Benny’s Video this issue is also addressed for example when the family is in the house together, there’s news footage on the t.v. about a war that’s going on. This is violence in real life, doesn’t matter if you want it or not, there it is in regular every day television. So maybe Haneke is addressing this as well.

Problem for me with this movie is that it got really slow paced after its second half. When Benny and his mom go to Egypt on a vacation, the film gets sloooow. Haneke likes to show his characters doing regular every day things. Sometimes he focuses so long on something which is apparently going nowhere, that it kind of tests your patience. I was watching a scene where Benny gets a hair cut and I thought about how an American film would have already cut to something else, yet there was Haneke lingering on the moment, as if he wants you to really absorb what’s happening so that it feels more like real life. Which is a commendable thing, something that Werner Herzog does a lot too. But this technique can produce some really slow moments where a film can crawl to a complete stop. Some feel as if this is Haneke’s way of taking away any violence or blood shed, any fast paced action, just to see if you can take it. Kind of giving a "fuck you" to people who have become desensitized by fast paced violent films and the fast pace of our every day lives. My advice is, if you can’t take slower paced movies, don’t bother with this one. If on the other hand you enjoy films that feel like you are experiencing real life, then indulge.

I’ve now seen Cache and Benny’s Video and my impression of Haneke films is that they are kind of devoid of all emotion. The characters are all so deadly serious, almost as if all life was sucked out of them. Read somewhere that this one is part of a series of films that purposely show little emotion through their characters, which I find interesting. Benny himself is devoid of emotion, as are his parents, who's cold reaction to Benny's acts is an indication that Haneke was purposely going for an emtional void with this movie. People who are so connected to their fast paced lives, and their entertainment, that they forget what it is to feel, to be human. I’ll be watching more Haneke films so look out for those reviews in the near future.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5
Benny's Video [1992] / Region 2 PAL European Edition DVD / Actors: Arno Frisch / Directors: Michael Haneke/ Language: French / Subtitles: English / Run Time: 115 minutesBenny's Video


Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I'm glad you watched this one Franco before embarking on FUNNY GAMES (either version). I think there are certain subtleties to this film lacking in other examples. It is also significantly less self-conscious and self-reflexive. This is something you find a lot of in art cinema and especially films dealing with questions of spectatorship and audience interaction with violent images.

One of the differences between this and later Haneke films is that he explores in detail the question of parental responsibility, and the role of parental figures in the formation of an individuals identity. The ending to this film is deeply ironic as Benny reports his murderous actions thus condeming his parents to a long prison stretch.

Franco Macabro said...

Agree, Haneke is saying, its the parents who are responsible for Benny turning out the way he did.

What I was thinking about the ending was that I think Benny was telling the cops that they had done it and not him. That whole conversation they had made it look as if they had done it. I think Benny was actually set free! Insane.

Now that you mention it, I think Haneke also explored these parental issues in Cache as well, I remember the parents being cold with the kid, and the kid showing frustration towards their neglect towards him.

I find their is a connection between this movie and Cache, thematically speaking, they have many similarities. I mean, the parental issues, the use of the video camera as an intruder in our lives, the neglect of children, the effect of violence in our lives..

I will be checking out Funny Games next!

Manuel Marrero said...

Saw this one a year ago; I remember falling asleep in the middle but eventually woke up and finished it. Honestly...i'm not a fan of Haneke, I didnt like the original Funny Games or the American version, i'm not into the torture-shock movement. But this movie is not that bad if you cut the slow parts.

Simon said...

I was going to say to watch Funny Games, but it looks like somebody beat me to it. So, good review, then.

Franco Macabro said...

@Manuel: Torture Shock? This movie isn't torture shock at all, its got very little torture, and very little shock. I think it has one truly violent moment, and its towards a pig that gets his brains blown out.

@Simon: Thanks anyways Simon!

I Like Horror Movies said...

I almost want to say that Benny's taste for violence in media was cathartic, and that he had sociopathic tendencies before watching the media, and that allowed him to supress his urges, but that is really allowing the character a lot. Completely agree with the second half of the film, the only thing I can think of is that the break from the suspense made the mother's mental collapse that much more powerful.

a.pelaez said...

It's not torture shock because there's not enough shocking torture parts in it for it to be torture shock and I agree that maybe the movie does get a bit slow (that should come without saying in a Haneke movie) but I think this movie is much more than just about suggesting that violence in the Media creates violent "troubled" teenagers, or violent people.

You're right. Someone doesn't become violent just by watching a lot of violent movies, they can become more dettached... but being violent or being preconditioned to violence by experiencing violent acts is a precondition to reacting violently to such films.

Haneke (who I believe is Austrian) does mostly french films and works mostly with french actors, yet for this film he chose to do it in Austria with german actors, and it serves a purpose.

It is more a social-commentary movie on german culture than it is about the Media; the coldness in european-german culture inherited through feelings of guilt stirred by their nazi past.
May seem a bit petty to some, but it is a true cultural phenomena that, ironically, was brought up in all the festivals in which this movie was shown except in the one in Austria.

But in any case, after that fact, my personal opinion is that he (Haneke) doesn't subscribe to saying that such things make people violent, he is saying they make you dettached. Which is quite different. Dettachment, for example, like people wanting to take pictures of each event rather then experience it, live it.
It's really funny that this movie was done before the boom in reality tv. Fuck, how true it has become when millions of people sit through so many shows of random assholes doing normal, boring, everyday things!!

I think it's a beautiful piece of film. The visual simplicity and yet, the complexity and depth of psychological concepts dealt is genius to me.

What Haneke does is, he creates film that is to be treated like "artifacts", a film within a film, like Benny's video within "Benny's Video", the surveillance-type shots in "Caché"; fictions instilled with added reality by being shot like surveillance tapes or homemade film. In that, he questions the reality of any filmed event while playing with the concept of the spectator, having his characters be the spectators of an event that the actual spectator has previously been a whitness to.

The coldness in Haneke's characters reflect his affinity for Robert Bresson's legacy, who believed in the economy of movement and emotion in his actors and looked for a "mechanical" kind of acting, achieving such a thing by having his actors do numerous takes of shots until the action became automatic.

There's a new movie (2009) The White Ribbon, maybe I'll see it but the one I really wanna see is Der Siebente Kontinent. It seems that's a seminal movie for Haneke.

Gideon Strumpet said...

I've seen a number of Haneke movies and they all pack pretty solid punch. I remember after watching Funny Games (the Austrian version) that I just couldn't get it out of my head. It made me angry, it made me depressed, but whatever else it did, it was effective. It truly is its name. In the films of his I have seen he creates an interesting relationship with the viewer. In Funny Games, the games are on us as much as they are on the family, and in Cache he creates a film in which the audience, always a voyeur, is brought deeper into the narrative with our Peeping Tom ways.

I have wanted to see Benny's Video for awhile, so I am even more intrigued now. Thanks for the write up.

Manuel Marrero said...

Yea i kno this movie isnt torture shock, i was talking about Funny Games cause they torture the family threw out the film.

Franco Macabro said...

"I almost want to say that Benny's taste for violence in media was cathartic, and that he had sociopathic tendencies before watching the media, and that allowed him to supress his urges, but that is really allowing the character a lot"

I think his parents submitted him to violence, Benny was the one taping the pig being slaughtered and his parents were amongst the people watching the slaughter.

I never did get that very well, did people pay money to see this kind of thing? I kind of got that vibe that people were chipping in for some kind of morbid game.

The second half of the film is sooo slow, its difficult to get through, but like you said, the mom breaking down is more powerful when it happens because she was repressing everything. The slow pace is probably why I gave it a lower rating.

Franco Macabro said...

@Dada: Thanks for your lengthy reply Dada! Just like I like them!

I agree with your views on Hanekes films, that detachment you feel while watching an video image, through a tv, while watching a movie, its like a film, within a seems this is a recurring theme in his movies.

The point you make about Bennys Video representing that coldness Germans feel due to their emotional baggage stemming from the whole Nazi movement, I remember Haneke mentioning it in his interview on the DVD, how its something that Germans prefer not to talk about. In his Austrian showing of the movie, people ignored this message the film has to offer, but it was mentioned in all other showings. He has guts to address these things through his movies.

I hear the White Ribbon has more to do with the whole Nazi movement. I read that The White Ribbon was about how the children that later became Nazis were brought up, what they were taught. How did they become what they became. Im sure it will make for a fascinating and thought provoking film.

The Seventh Continent was I believe his first film, I havent been able to watch it, but its supposed to be somehow connected thematically to Benny's Video and Cache.

Franco Macabro said...

@Gideon: Its true, his movies have this impact, psychologically. I remember when Cache was over, suddenly I was like...what just happened!! I find it interesting that even though Hanekes films can be slow at times, they are always rewarding regardless of their pace. They always leave you thinking and talking about their themes.

I will be watching and reviewing Funny Games soon! Thanks for your comments.

Thanks to everyone really.

a.pelaez said...

@ Manuel: Still wouldn't say Haneke is part of a "torture-shock movement" he likes to provoke, but it's on a psychological level. The violence in his movies is not gratuitous, it's not something that goes on forever or is continuous.

@FC : Sure thing! I, so far, love Haneke, in spite of "Code Unknown". Boy, that one was a dud!! But so far really dig his flicks. There's so much thought put into them...things are never just what they seem.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for your comments Dada! Ive never seen code unknown, but Ill leave that one for last then!


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