Monthly Archives: December 2017

  • Happy End Michael Haneka (2017; Europe)

    Happy End Michael
    Haneka (2017; Europe) Isabelle
    Huppert; J-L Trintignant

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 5th Dec 2017;
    ticket: £ 9.75

    The Medium is the Message

    Haneka’s film has a strange title. As far as I can tell he has used this title right across Europe, without translation. Usually his film titles are translated. But what is the title pointing to? Perhaps it’s being at the happy end of the IPhone.

    Haneka’s movie opens and closes with footage taken by Eve on her IPhone and registers in the projection of the film as ‘IPhone’ footage. In the first shot she describes what she sees filming her mother’s bed time routine. Although Haneka scripted and ‘shot’ these clips, there is a sense in which they are not his or rather he cannot claim complete ownership of them.

    Smart phone technology has triggered a culture which is flooded out by pics and clips. Dying fucking eating suicide are grist to the smart phone mill. Secret ‘shared’ thoughts breakdowns intimacy the body: what was once considered ‘private’ now is subject to public broadcaste.. There is sense in which smart phone recordings can be understood as generic, not in a meaningful sense owned by anyone but just part of the milieu in which we live, the water in which we swim. It is the medium that has become the message.

    McLuhan’s vivid insight, is explored by Haneka through both Eve and then through her father Thomas. Through Eve we can see the effect of cool smart phone technology on her relationship with the world. Filming on a smart phone she reduces what she sees to objects of a detached curiosity. Filming and on-line media engage a world that is characterised by fragmentations discontinuities disconnections and detachment. Subjected to the process of continuous recording, the technology is absorbed into everyone’s psychic reality, it becomes part of who we all are.

    The smart phone is a cool technology that mediates its objects as the subjects of a detached gaze. It is a gaze that has all the heat of meaning abstracted and lacks emotional consequentiality. In ‘Happy End’ Haneka draws on and depicts what is generic in the culture to depict the depersonalisation of relations in the film: the relations between father – daughter, mother- son, and the impotent isolation of George, the pater familias, the old grand-dad.

    Whereas Eve’s world is located in the cool detachment of smart phone technology, Thomas is in thrall to the hot print of internet e-relations. The heat of the texted instantaneous feed back loops between him and Clair, have reduced them both to an genito-anal infantile fixation. Whilst Thomas invests in his image (even if it is in self deception) Eve in contrast distances herself from image. The hot cool relationship between father and daughter is mirrored in the hot cool relations between son and mother. Their relationship is introduced by Haneka with CCTV footage of a construction site accident.

    CCTV material is impersonal fixed image which has a purported objectivity but may have multiple implications. The accident triggers the dynamics that cause the split in the Anne and Pierre’s relationship. It reinforces and motivates Anne to take the cool analytic corporate line: to do whatever is necessary to save the business. Whereas Pierre is shocked by the accident and the harm his firm has caused to an individual, rejects the legal machinations and embraces the hot world of emotional responsibility.

    In one long durational shot, a sort of ‘Pieta’ set up, Haneka affectively compresses the son /mother relationship as Anne visits her son Pierre in his room after he has failed to turn up for work. After a period of immobility, with camera focusing on Peter stretched half naked on his bed, the camera tracks and pans following the action, of mother and son stitching the all the dynamics of their changed relationship together as one statement. In contrast George, the pater familias, isolated from the crossed wires of the intergenerational tensions of his children and grand-children, has nothing left to do but to die. There is no place left for him in the world. He is not in the movie.

    Haneka seems to me primarily a satirist, working the dark veins of didactic representation in the manner of a Dean Swift. His satire works best when it is undeviating and delivered at face value. Happy End takes up the moral theme that has driven Haneka’s directorial career: the bankrupt and morally degenerate nature of bourgeois consumer society. Happy End pays homage both in script and shooting style to Haneka’s previous movies. In revisiting particular settings and subjects we see the shadows and hear echoes of: The Piano Teacher; Funny Games, Hidden, and l’ Amour.

    And this is the problem with the film: it attempts to cover too much ground. Haneka’s decision to reprise elements of Hidden and Piano Teacher don’t work effectively. The refugee scenes and the actual appearance of Clair who we know of through her on-line psycho-sexual tryst with Thomas, both look like they have been bolted onto the body of the film. They are both essentially outside the satirical unfolding of film’s logics, bulking out the body of the film with topical but specious material. The penultimate scene depicting a hyper enervated Pierre inviting immigrants to his mother’s wedding feast comes across simply as a failed homage to Bunuel’s Viridiana. It is cursory and undeveloped, as is the appearance of Clair at George’s party: token gestures.

    Happy End is uneven but it is a film of European sensibility. It encodes, in content and process the idea that we have to interpret what we see. We can never see the complete picture. Haneka does not generally make films that comprise only the simplistic images of the Hollywood Cinema. After our intensive socialisation through the symbolic language of the advertising industry, Hollywood feeds us with images that we simply have to read. Like hamburgers we chew them up and swallow them whole. But in the European vein, Haneka gives us shots that we have to interpret; shots that are detached from the lexicons of product manipulation; shots that we have to look at and to decipher in relation to what we know, both from the film and from life. Happy End is a film that we have to interpret. adrin neatrour

  • Battle of the Sexes Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (USA 2017)

    Battle of the Sexes
    Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (USA 2017) Emma Stone, Steve Carell.

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 28 November 2017; ticket £9.75

    winner and losers

    There is not much to say about Dayton and Faris’ ‘Battle of the Sexes’ as film. It is a good story but which is given the Hollywood treatment so that the film itself is a predictable formulaic product, shot using standard shot reverse shot, it’s overlong and weighed down by its own expectations of political and personal correctitude.

    AS a biopic it suffers from the curse of genre that its heroine, Billie Jean King is rendered as pure as the driven snow – BJK as an image that steps right out of a shower gel advert. Without blemish, she’s a great advocate for women’s rights, for women’s tennis and has the guts to put these on the line in taking on Bobby Riggs’ challenge. All accurate as the image she projected, but un-interesting. The script of course a la Hollywood mode tries to cover all bases; all two of them: the professional and the personal. But neither of these areas kindles dramatic tension.

    The script loses focus in relation to BJK in the sense that in the modern vein it wants to include everything: the tennis and the personal in equal proportion. As the personal involves her lesbian relationship which today is a personal choice approaching the norm, there is little contemporary interest to be derived from this ‘transgressive’ area of her personal life. In particular as her husband is happy enough to go along with her desire and not stand in the way ( Their marriage as scripted lacked passion on either side and may at this stage of its life been a convenience). But the personal aspect of BJK’s life is filled out cinematically with ‘falling in love’ which the directors equate shot wise with bulking out the film with dull longeurs of the lovers staring doe eyed at each other before slithering genteelly together between the sheets.

    This is tedious cinema, that may justify itself as promoting LGBT rights, but if so the Battle of the Sexes ( in the best Hollywood traditions) is fighting a battle already done and dusted. There is nothing in the script that encodes or actually probes what price BJK might have paid for ‘coming out’ at this point in her career, or even the tension her career creates in prioritising work over play. There is no cost depicted by Dayton and Faris even in BJK’s personal anxiety for her lesbian affinity. So this is an inconsequential cinema, that reduces its core personal relationship to a scripting device.

    Given that the outcome of the Riggs/BJK match is well known it is almost impossible to generate any tension in relation to the result of the Match that is the film’s centre piece. Because BJK in Battle of the Sexes is an image pure rather than a character there is no psychic dimension to the movie, a dimension that might have probed the more deeply into the layers of her responses and self belief. In effect all that Dayton and Faris achieve in relation to BJK’s story is a triumphalist anthem, that in today’s lexicon is free of the troublesome business of doubt and self reflection.

    If BJK can be rendered as no more that a two dimensional caricature, not so Bobby Riggs. Even though the film goes to great lengths editorially to give equal time to both protagonists, Riggs is immediately interesting, in a way BJK is not. He cannot be boxed into two dimensions. Riggs was himself, a time back, a tennis champion (and like BJK not out of the college side of the tracks). But ‘tennis’ as a world had not fenced him in. His commitment to tennis was as part of the life process Dayton and Faris can’t stop Riggs being the gravitational centre towards which their film is inexorably pulled. Riggs has energy. He ducks he dives he bobs he weaves. It is clear that at the core of Riggs’ being is the drive for immanence, life on the edge; life as the hustler. To create situations where he is dancing to his own dangerous tunes, playing his own game to high risk stakes.

    Steve Carell playing Riggs commands attention every time this parallel cut movie shifts to the Riggs perspective. Despite Battle of the Sexes attempts to sex up BJK’s role, the real story is Riggs. Riggs’ stunning decision to turn his bad ass attitude towards equal pay for women tennis players into a scam and caper on a truly epic scale. To become the prankster ring master of the virtual tennis circuit.

    Battle of the Sexes gives some idea of the enormity of Riggs’ conceit. A documentary would have done better justice to the scale of his realised achievement as he successfully sold the whole of the media world in the USA, the match in Dallas, as the Battle of the Sexes.

    Most sports stars are uninteresting because they are self confined to the bounded worlds and rules of the game from which they earn their money and in which live out their life. Unless something happens that catastrophically smashes through these bounds, the people living in these toy towns, carry through their duty of filling the sports sections of the back pages or prime time TV slots. That is their world, and they stick within it and to it.

    Riggs however was out of this world. He had moved into a world of his own self creation where he made the rules. Briefly BJK was at least partially assimilated into his world on his terms. Riggs may have lost the match but in terms of the game of life, he was far ahead. But Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris seem not have been happy with this more honest depiction and opted to make a dull biopic with a Riggs Side show, even though on their own terms they couldn’t contain him on the tram lines. adrin neatrour