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The Seventh Continent, Michael Haneke (1989)

Oh dear. This is early Haneke, and far more ham-fisted than later works of genius like Code Unknown and Time of the Wolf, but it’s still, of course, more than worth watching if you’re at all a fan of Haneke’s pretentious black-turtleneck existential despair.

The film’s based on a true story which is pretty simple to tell in a sentence. Unremarkable bourgeois family–father, mother, daughter–one day lock themselves in their house, systematically destroy their possessions and then kill themselves. I don’t feel bad giving away the ending, because the movie’s not so much about the plot as it is about Haneke’s formalism, the way he uses repetition and isolation to conjure first the family’s banal affluence, and then their equally banal self-destruction.

This isn’t as sadistic as Haneke’s Funny Games, but in a way it’s more terrifying. In Funny Games, the boys seem to be motivated, somehow, by something–anger, joy, whatever–and even though their motives are sick, at least they exist, which creates the possibility that their actions are somehow meaningful. Here, the family goes about their self-annihilation with the same kind of banal detachment they displayed as they lived their supposedly intolerable life. I’m reminded of Cioran’s great On the Heights of Despair. The enemy of joy is detachment, not despair. The family’s tragedy isn’t that they destroy themselves, it’s that they don’t enjoy tearing their lives down any more than they enjoyed building it up.

Ponderous, pompous, and obvious, but still delicious in that bitter Austrian way.

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