Friday, January 22, 2010

71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994)

Personally, from a purely cinematic point of view, the last decade belonged to Michael Haneke. With the glaring exception of his own remake of Funny Games (2007), his output has been nothing short of spectacular: Code Unknown (2000), The Piano Teacher (2001), The Time of the Wolf (2004), Hidden (2005), and The White Ribbon (2009). Their immediate ambiguity is frustrating, but in Haneke's hands, his singular characters and stories become elemental parts of a sublime metanarrative of societal decay.

The seeds of his themes were sown a decade prior to this run of films. His "Glaciation Trilogy" shows in abundance what their director aims to convey with stories that are difficult to penetrate, but all too familiar. 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance contains thematic and aesthetic elements of the previous two installment in the trilogy: The Seventh Continent (1989) and Benny's Video (1992). It takes the former's ambiguous narrative technique and enhances it with disparate characters and seemingly parallel storylines. It borrows Benny from the latter and puts him in a different mould as a young Romanian boy stealing his way through the streets of Vienna.

There isn't a story per se - it is literally a collection of fragments of unrelated people of Vienna: alongside the aforementioned young boy there is a couple who would like to adopt; a bank security van driver, who prays everyday in the bathroom for the end of his wife's depression; a grumpy old men moaning his indifferent and cold daughter; a 19-year-old Swiss student who just might have had enough ... and so on.

It should be pretty captivating. Sadly, it is not. From a narrative perspective, by giving away the ending in the beginning in a literal way, the audience are forced to relate to only a single character. Every decision henceforth are judged by how approximate we are to the promised climax, which defies the whole purpose. It is arguable that it wasn't Haneke's intention to make a genre thriller, but there is no way we can know what his intentions were. What made the previous two films captivating (there's that word again) is that despite their non-flashy narrative and visual style, they kept you guessing as to how this entropy will finally come about. The decay is there - it's ever-present, but it's the way in which it comes about is really interesting. That is why Code Unknown and Hidden were absolutely mesmerising.

Haneke's '90s films deserves as much attention as his slightly more mainstream '00s output. However, it feels like with 71 Fragments ... Haneke had taken a slightly backwards step. I guess the man is entitled to one dud per decade.

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