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Failure to communicate
on 17 February 2010
The second of Haneke's blued out so called 'emotional glaciation' films, Benny's Video explores the emotional detachment of Benny a spoiled Austrian teen isolated from the family and society he finds himself further and further detached from.
Watching the world through television, Benny, even though living above the city with fantastic views draws his blinds and chooses to observe the city through rooftop CCTV. His connection with the world comes from News, television and through violent video. One video in particular, a home made shot of his family stun-gunning a pig for slaughter is viewed over and over again by Benny, often rewinding the video so that the death shot can be replayed in slow motion.
Benny's interactions in the film are awkward and he doesn't speak to his parents. A typical teen you may think. Benny upon returning to a video store which he visits regularly notices a girl at the window, who he has seen before. He awkwardly tries to communicate with the girl and they end up back at his house where Benny's behaviour and actions seem even more awkward and unusual. Benny shows the girl the video of the pig slaughter and then shows that he stole the stun gun. A clumsy moment apparently of idiocy sees Benny fire the weapon at the girl which then results in her death.
The film centres around Benny's character reactions and of his family's reaction to the death of the girl. The film is less about the murder and more about responsibility, communication and poses many, many questions about morality, family bonds, loyalty and of course Haneke's favourite, our role, the viewer and our blind acceptance of violence in the media and our gluttonous consumption of said violence and the consequences of what I would call our nonchalant attitude at what we largely see as something benign or distant.
Criticised in many reviews of both Benny's Video and Funny Games for double standards for using extreme violence whilst sermonizing us for 'wanting it' I feel many critics miss the point. Haneke chooses to shock by breaking certain traditional rules which distance us from the violence. In most Hollywood cinema, the violence is sexed up and made appealing, with fantastic scores and humour thrown in. Haneke presents the violence a little more honestly although he admits himself that if Hollywood makes violence sexy, he goes to the opposite extreme and if truth be told the effects are emotionally quite chilling albeit in Benny's Video you never actually see the violent act, it's referred to and you hear it.
No soundtrack, no gore, no 'sexing up' the director doesn't even move his camera - the director is detached from the violence himself which leaves us undisturbed by music, special effects, gore etc and instead we are left all alone to confront it. Haneke does not treat his audience like idiots and realises that the mind is powerful and by not showing the violence, the film is opened up to certain questions and we are left to imagine the violence which can be very powerful.
I feel that Benny's Video is one of the best character studies of the isolated youth that there's been in some time.