Razkrita indentiteta in stara objava

Kot ste nekateri morda že uganili, sem včasih objavljal pod vzdevkom Selemjan. Po skoraj letu dni sem se bloganja naveličal in Nočne izpovedi izbrisal. Blogotožje pa se me je polastilo relativno hitro – in tako se je rodil blog, zvan La Mâchoire de Jaffar, zastavljen nekoliko preambiciozno in hkrati premalo vpadljiv. Ni me dolgo veselil.

Po tej prehodni fazi sem se vnovič registriral na Siolu, kjer tudi mislim ostati. Vmesnik je zelo dober in za solidno branost se ni treba truditi kot na Blogspotu.
Kakorkoli že, zapis o Michaelu Hanekeju, navzlic nekolikšnem dolgovezju, mi je tako všeč, da ga bom vključil tudi sem. Pomagal mi bo pri odločanju, ali naj sploh nadaljujem s filmskimi objavami. Še v vednost: ne pričakujte nadaljnjih obujanj starejših objav, saj tako početje le zavira mojo ustvarjalnost.

Whenever the name of the notorious Austrian cineaste Michael Haneke is brought up, chaos ensues. Praised by fans and critics for his technical mastery, macabre humour and unmatched studies of the human condition, he ranks among the very finest directors of today. However, there are many who write him off as a pretentious, talentless hack, his films driven by little more than shock value antics. Whatever your view on the author, his work is guaranteed to affect you in one way or another: message boards and forums are full of heated discussions on Caché, La Pianiste, Benny’s Video, Funny Games and the rest of his oeuvre.

In terms of movie viewing, the month of June has been particularly busy for me, as I’ve been fervently discovering Austrian and Hungarian cinema. Of all the films I’ve seen, Haneke’s »glaciation trilogy« (or the Austrian trilogy, as I like to call it) is without a doubt the most memorable and haunting experience. The gloomy mood that pervades the deeply disturbing – and also brilliant! – The Seventh Continent (Der Siebente Kontinent, 1989) is unsettling to the point where one is likely to stop watching, just to get away from Haneke’s fiction and embrace the suddenly oh-so-pleasant reality. Benny’s video (1992), while certainly an engaging thriller, is the lesser of the three films, being no match for 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls, 1994), a magnificent ensemble drama. As the title suggests, the film consists of 71 vignettes, depicting the everyday life of various individuals in urban surroundings. Naturally, this being Haneke, the initial setup is only a façade, soon succumbing to the uncanny. There are lots of interesting scenes to choose from, but, for the purpose of not making the post too long, I shall only concentrate on one.

71 Fragments is probably best known for its scene of a young table tennis player training against an automatic opponent (see here). It is shot in a single take, lasting almost three minutes, three minutes of doing the exact same thing! A stunt of this sort is very difficult to pull without coming off as pompous, so how is it to be justified? In an interview conducted by Serge Toubiana, Haneke – to my great disappointment – touches only the surface of the problem, saying the scene is devised to test the audience’s patience. He suggests the viewer should go through various states, starting off with amazement, then anger, followed by reluctant fascination. Since Haneke always stresses his films can be interpreted as one sees fit, I shall try to come up with my own reading of the scene.

Just before the end, the table tennis player turns out to be the central figure of the film. He rushes in a bank, starts randomly shooting at people (some of them are main characters, of course), and takes his own life upon returning in his car. What prompted him to commit this thoughtless deed? As Haneke points out, his films offer no clear answers, especially this one, which puts much emphasis on the fragmentary nature of displaying people’s lives. Nevertheless, finding a valid answer to this question might not be as difficult as trying to explain the group suicide in The Seventh Continent. The solution might just lie in the table tennis scene.

In general, the film narrative tries to be as economical as possible: there is no need to show scenes of people doing trivial things, such as fingernail cutting, ear cleaning, locking the doors, saying ‘bye’ to end a phone conversation, etc. If the director chooses to show us a scene of someone walking to their car, there is a very high chance of something happening along the way, be it a sneaky attack, a chance encounter with someone, or an exciting shootout. We are so used to the absence of trivial doings, that when we finally see one (must not be short), we tend to attach meanings to it. For instance, let’s say we are watching a scene of a woman brushing her teeth, her look calmly fixed on her image in the mirror. Let’s try to imagine it, and then ask ourselves: wouldn’t she seem unhappy, tired of her life, with no prospects on the horizon? And all she would be doing is brushing her teeth, like we do every day. The table tennis scene works in the same way: the more we observe the player, the more peculiar he seems (especially after knowing what happens in the end). Suddenly, we find ourselves unable to tell if that is fatigue on his face or an angry expression brought forth by an unsound mind. His mechanical movements are frightening, there is something pathological about them. We do not know what was the young man’s exact motive, if there was any (that would undermine Haneke’s philosophy), but we begin to understand how the shooting could have happened.

By itself, the scene has no special meaning. We, the audience, must be there to give it one. In this respect, Haneke – as he often does – commands the audience’s involvement, but this time it could be he’s not even aware of it. He surely wouldn’t care; after all, it’s no secret he hates authors who know it all.

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