Benny's Video (1992)

Review #1,552

Director:  Michael Haneke
Cast:  Arno Frisch, Angela Winkler, Ulrich Mühe
Plot:  A 14-year-old video enthusiast is so caught up in film fantasy that he can no longer relate to the real world.

Genre:  Drama / Crime
Awards:  Premiered at Cannes Film Festival; Won FIPRESCI Prize (European Film Awards)
Runtime:  105 mins
Rating:  NC16 (passed clean) for brief nudity and disturbing scenes
Source:  Les Films du Losange

“You mustn't lie.  Is that clear?  You can't afford to.”

In Michael Haneke's second part of his 'Glaciation' trilogy, he begins with a low-resolution camcorder shot of a pig led to be killed outside a farmhouse.  It is a distressing scene that he rewinds and repeats in slow-motion, sadistically urging us to intellectualise the action.  It sets the tone and foreshadows the chilling action that is to come some thirty minutes later.  

Of course, and in retrospect, it is also the exact moment when the visual motifs and thematic obsessions of the auteur that had been first seeded in his nihilistic debut, The Seventh Continent (1989), comes back in a more harrowing form, prefiguring the likes of Funny Games (1997) and Cache (2005).  

Considered by some to be one of Haneke’s weaker films, Benny’s Video is certainly no less challenging a work as any in his singular filmography.  A teenage boy lives with his parents in an upscale apartment, but unlike most of his peers who watch television or movies for fun, he is obsessed with violent imagery, to the point that he’s beyond desensitised.  

Blessed with equipment that allows him to capture and play videos, he is surrounded by a constant barrage of moving images, from the nonchalant to, of course, the hideous.  One day, Benny chances upon a seemingly aloof girl outside a video rental store—she’s hooked to whatever that is playing on the telly—and brings her back to his apartment.  

True to the Haneke fashion, things take a severe left turn.  And that’s all you should know going into this disturbing film.  Meditating on the nature of media violence and the psychological ramifications as a result of such an exposure, Benny’s Video suggests that the lack of parental control is as equally culpable as an increasingly media-saturated world, where the lines between fantasy and reality crisscross, or perhaps even coalesce.  

Haneke’s modus operandi is to try to use as much camcorder footage as he deems fit (including scenes where the characters take a trip to Egypt as if recording a visual diary), making Benny’s Video look rather amateurish, which is probably the point.  But why can’t we stop watching?

Verdict:  Prefiguring the likes of “Funny Games” and “Cache”, Haneke’s second feature is a challenging and disturbing work on media violence and its psychological ramifications. 



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