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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bleak and clinical examination of a family in despair, 20 Mar 2008
The seventh continent at the centre of this bleak tale of suburban dysfunction is as vague and enigmatic as the film itself. Are we supposed to believe that the geographical state noted in the title is the rugged, ethereal landscape glimpsed fleetingly throughout key moments of the film, or is it in fact a much higher state of being that can only truly be achieved by purging yourself of the trappings of twentieth century life? The need for transcendence is central throughout The Seventh Continent (1989), the first feature film from Austrian provocateur Michael Haneke, who has subsequently gone on to re-examine this very same theme in his following films - 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), The Piano Teacher (2001) and Hidden (2005) - by continually probing the very boundaries of human nature and the personal and/or social factors that can drive an individual to the point of complete, psychological transcendence. If you are at all familiar with Haneke's work you will be partially aware of what to expect from the film in question, with The Seventh Continent presenting us with a deep, hypnotic and highly clinical examination of the break-down in communication between members of a middle-class Austrian family, and the desire they have to transcend the drab, soulless grind of their everyday existence and arrive at that mythical place so central to the title.

Even here, with his first film for cinema, Haneke's iconic style and attention to detail is fully-formed, with the same stylistic flourishes found in his recent film, the highly acclaimed Hidden, already presented in the stark, antiseptic presentation of the world created here. The direction of the film is intended to present to us the emptiness and tedium central to the lives of its characters, by giving us scenes that play out in long, unbroken takes lasting anywhere between five to ten minutes, with the camera often locked off and immobile in order to further emphasise the idea of clinical examination. In this respect, the film is less about telling a story and presenting emotions in a manner that we might expect from cinema, but instead feeling more like a science experiment, with Haneke as the biology professor inviting us to take a look through the lens of the microscope. In keeping with this idea, the way in which the drama unfolds and is presented is again drawing heavily on the director's desire to create a mood for the audience that in some way mirrors that of the characters depicted on screen. So, the slow pace, deliberately minimal use of editing and the constant repetition of scenes, actions and events all help to create that same sense of tedium and lifeless banality in order to create a reaction or even a sense of empathy from those of us watching this very ordinary family spiral so terribly out of control.

These themes are further reinforced with the film's near iconic opening shot; a locked off, low-angle perspective of a family saloon moving slowly through a service station car wash. The shot, presented in real-time, lasts somewhere between five or six minutes, but on our first exposure to the film, feels much, much longer. Although it will undoubtedly infuriate some, it establishes the style and pace of the film perfectly; whilst also creating something of an atmosphere of empty, soulless routine. Why wash the car when it will only get dirty again? Later in the film the shot will be repeated within context to further illustrate this point. From here we cut to a montage of cold, clinically arranged images of domestic cleansing; toilets, showerheads, sinks, plug-holes, toothbrushes, etc. It's almost ten minutes before we even see a character's face or find any kind of meaningful exchange of dialog, with Haneke instead presenting the ideas of routine, conformity, cleansing and facade. The notion of cleansing, both literally in this instance, and spiritually as the film progresses, is an important theme, with the family effectively cleansing themselves from society; stripping away every layer of the superficial and eventually taking the final leap of faith into the unknown.

Even here, as the family take their house apart piece by piece and destroy their belongings in order to free themselves from the shackles of routine and social responsibility, we have the action presented as a series of hypnotic, gruelling and repetitive montages that stress the weight of effort required to even escape the horrors of the mundane. Admittedly, I could be reading this the wrong way, but to me the implication is clear; that the family - for one reason or another - have simply ceased to exist. Even before the film begins they have been consumed by life and are now numbed to its pleasures, no matter how few and far between. As a result, many will find these characters hard to like and even harder to empathise with, particularly in the selfishness regarding their child. In one of the most moving scenes, Haneke drops his guard, and for the first time allows his polemic to be overtaken by emotion; as the family sit motionless on the couch, the television set flickering in the dark, with Jennifer Rush singing her anthemic hit The Power of Love as their house lies in ruins, the little girl drinks her milk and softly proclaims "its bitter!". The Seventh Continent is not as easy film to watch; nor to appreciate on any immediate, emotional level. Like much of Haneke's work it requires an enormous amount of thought and effort on the part of the audience to really think about and deconstruct what it is that he is attempting to convey, and only then are we able to truly understand and appreciate what the film is really about.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true horror film, 25 Oct 2012
Dr. Delvis Memphistopheles "FIST" (London) - See all my reviews
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The horror genre has been done to death but here is another completely different take on it; private horror. Completely sidestepping any filmic cliches this drags you down down down into familiar territory, the every day world.

The opening hour is a family performing their social roles as breadwinner, child and wife. Locked within each character is a deep sense of alienation, a desire to connect and win friendship...but. Also dripping within the background is a bucket of despair infecting each person. The ascent up the company ladder is brought home as meaningless, money an empty promise. At the end of the working life is illness and a dispensation of all possessions within the office. Time spent in the company becomes repaid with a shuffle off the end of the stage with a little push. The wife senses the growing despair and sticks to her routine world, sensing her daughters growing disconnection as she pretends to be blind to win friends.

Vignettes of humiliation, small puddles are left on the floor as each daily interaction builds. Soulless, dehumanisation all too taken for granted rises in small layers.

The film is slow, the long shots of stylised lives sap concentration, but this is the point as it erects its message towards the end. As it unravels the film becomes excruciating in its progression. There were times I just wanted to get up and walk away, going no, they aren't are they?

Based on a true story, it is a relentless attack on the world we have constructed, the paranoia of parents, their slow erosion of psychological health, the hidden meanings they find for their lives. A dreamworld beckons throughout, life in Australia enters as a new beginning, a deserted paradise, but instead we see lives becoming gently eroded.

As with many Haneke films this stays with you after the credits have rolled. It is an experience rather than a piece of entertainment and needs a certain emotional state to imbibe what is being said. Similar to many Japanese critiques of modernity, this is bleak, uncompromising mundane but also highly emotionally intelligent, imaginative and visceral.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Shocking Descent...., 27 Mar 2012
Tim Kidner "Hucklebrook Hound" (Salisbury, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Seventh Continent [DVD] (DVD)
My three previous forays into Austrian director Michael Haneke's dark world - The Piano Teacher, Funny Games & White Ribbon - I found to be just a little bit sadistic and nasty, almost for the sake of it.

Why then, would I want to buy his ten-disc Collection, starting with this, his first feature? Wasn't that just rubbing my nose in it? It was cheap, that's why! And, good old curiosity.

The other reviewer certainly goes to some lengths to describe the ins and outs, so I won't. I basically agree but can pare my thoughts back to a few lines.

After the monotonous rituals of daily life, which are sort of compelling, as not only are they part of the ongoing story but show us another country and twenty odd years ago, so culture comparisons are interesting and inevitable. I don't know whether it was me, or intentional, but the destruction in the latter part seemed to take exactly as long as the film had taken to construct it, thus far. Whilst these scenes are unfolding, we don't see any faces, though we know which family member is doing it. It's almost so alien and anonymous, the ripping, smashing etc could have been done by the production assistants.

It is also the unfolding expectation that things are going to get worse, but by how much, we just don't know. That makes it all the more uncomfortable.

From the basis of adapting a true story, it's a well crafted and put together movie. I found the cut-offs, where the screen went blank at unexpected times a bit annoying, but I'm sure that was intentional, to induce a level of unease. The gaps went on for too long, also to be comfortable - all the same length but to the point where you wonder if the disc's sticking; again to create tension in the viewer.

I can't see how it could be improved but it certainly won't be very many people's cup of tea. If you found it enjoyable, someone might say that you were maladjusted yourself, too. On the strength of this one DVD, the rest of the box set looks enticing.....
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The Seventh Continent [DVD]
The Seventh Continent [DVD] by Michael Haneke (DVD - 2009)
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