Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Seventh Continent

*Michael Haneke*1989*German*104m*

This film is loosely based on a true life episode of family suicide. In the movie we see Georg and his wife Anna and their six year or so daughter Eva, a middle class family, in the unremarkable routine of their lives. We observe them in three cross sectional views of their lives in three successive years finally culminating in their suicide. Before they die, all their possessions are sold off and they wind up their affairs, resigning their jobs, emptying the bank accounts and selling the car. Then, on the final day, they destroy all the domestic possessions, smashing furniture and gadgets, flushing down an enormous amount of banknotes after tearing them up, and even destroy the aquarium, and we see the beautiful fish gasping their last as they die.

It is a riveting film. In the first two parts, we see pieces of their routine: shopping in a mall, over a meal, the child in school or Georg in office. In fact this supposedly dull routine of their life, in it's minute details is transformed by the brilliant camera work, into a kind of slowly unfolding still-life portrait of the life of a middle class family, which, in it's intimacy, is a delectable feast of voyeurism. Of course, the cracks in their life are becoming apparent: Georg has a haggard and hunted look, Anna breaks out crying, and Eva is quiet and withdrawn at school and home. Till the decision is made and executed in the searing climax.

What drives them seems more the internal void rather than the emptiness of routine. Life without any purpose and direction and anchorages within can be an unbearable burden. One is reminded of Anna Karenina's leap to death and her insights in the last two seconds before she is run over. It is worth quoting and preserving the passage.

"She tried to fling herself below the wheels of the first carriage as it reached her; but the red bag which she tried to drop out of her hand delayed her, and she was too late; she missed the moment. She had to wait for the next carriage. A feeling such as she had known when about to take the first plunge in bathing came upon her, and she crossed herself. That familiar gesture brought back into her soul a whole series of girlish and childish memories, and suddenly the darkness that had covered everything for her was torn apart, and life rose up before her for an instant with all its bright past joys. But she did not take her eyes from the wheels of the second carriage. And exactly at the moment when the space between the wheels came opposite her, she dropped the red bag, and drawing her head back into her shoulders, fell on her hands under the carriage, and lightly, as though she would rise again at once, dropped on to her knees. And at the same instant she was terror-stricken at what she was doing. "Where am I? What am I doing? What for?" she tried to get up, to drop backwards; but something huge and merciless struck her on the head and rolled her on her back. "Lord, forgive me all!" she said, feeling it impossible to struggle. A peasant muttering something was working at the iron above her. And the light by which she had read the book filled with troubles, falsehoods, sorrow, and evil, flared up more brightly than ever before, lighted up for her all that had been in darkness, flickered, began to grow dim, and was quenched forever."..from Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoi


Literary Dreamer said...

Yep, Tolstoy could certainly write.

This is your third review of a Michael Haneke film, so I'd like to know if you have a good sense of him as a director now, and what that sense is.

S. M. Rana said...


Among the best. Each film leaves me with a feeling of satisfaction, and the desire to see the film again, and to see more of his films. The cinematography was beautiful in each of the four films and the dramatic tension intense, even though nothing much may be going on. He is profoundly immersed in European culture and has a definite statement to make about modern civilization, and a mastery of his medium to be able to achieve it. Another more personal aspect for me is his love of Schubert.