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To see what it was like
A region 2 DVD review of BENNY'S VIDEO by Slarek
 
This film is available as part of Tartan's Michael Haneke Trilogy, which also includes The Seventh Continent and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, which are reviewed separately.

 

The pre-credits sequence of the second installment of Michael Haneke's so-called 'Glacial trilogy' (a term the director now laughs at having coined), Benny's Video (1992) will quickly deter a good many of those who might have problems with the film that follows. Shot on grainy 8mm video, it shows a pig being led out of a barn and then killed with a captive bolt pistol. We then watch as the tape is rewound and the killing is repeated in slow motion. Although this is a common (and, it is considered, 'humane') method employed for farmyard animal slaughter, it's one of those things few of us actually want to see even as we tuck into our bacon sandwiches and pork chops. What may initially seem like a cheap shock tactic has very specific bearing on the story that follows.

If you have never seen Benny's Video and know little about it, then I'd seriously consider bypassing the rest of this review and watching the film cold, as I did when I first saw it. It's impact is undoubtedly heightened by an innocence of what is about to hit you and to discuss the film in any detail requires revealing some of the plot points that it is worth being surprised or shocked by. If you've seen the film or already know how the narrative bends, then by all means proceed.

Once the credits are out of the way, Benny's Video proceeds in deceptively hum-drum fashion, as the video-obsessed young Benny of the title shoots footage of his sister's impromptu party, borrows money-making schemes from her to turn a buck at school, and rents trashy movies from the local store to watch in bed at night. His mother and father are straight-laced professionals and are happy to leave him in charge of their flat while they are away for the weekend. And that's when everything changes. Benny meets a young girl outside of the video store he frequents and invites her back to the flat. The two eat, watch some video (including the pig killing, which the girl does not shy away from), and then Benny shows her the captive bolt pistol he stole from the farm at which he shot the footage. He loads the weapon and the two dare each other to pull the trigger, the badge of coward used as a taunt for the hesitant, with the inevitable and terrible result.

The girl's death, a violent narrative disruption of the sort Haneke would use again in later films (see Hidden to experience this at its most shocking and unexpected), is made all the more disturbing by its protracted nature. Unlike the opening pig slaughter, it takes three clumsily executed shots for her to die, an action caught only in part by Benny's video camera, her suffering communicated to the audience almost solely through her screams.

If the killing itself is shocking, then Benny's casual indifference to his actions (he interrupts the task of hiding the body and cleaning up the blood in order to eat, write and arrange a night out with a friend) and the reaction of his parents on discovering the crime is all the more so. Here Haneke highlights what he sees at the Austrian trait of brushing things under the carpet, but in the process delivers a particularly scathing condemnation of bourgeois self-centredness. Benny's mother and father think not of the murdered girl or her family but how the crime would reflect on them as parents and affect their son's future prospects, and their decision to cover it up and dispose of the body is reached with troubling ease.

The subsequent journey to the jarring final twist is a continuously uncomfortable one, as we are physically and morally removed from the crime scene but remain connected to its consequences by the niggling reminders of the terrible task being undertaken back home by Benny's father. By offering no concrete reasons for Benny's actions or subsequent behaviour, Haneke also provides no way for the viewer to easily explain them away. This is probably just as well, as the small hints that are present – Benny watches trashy horror movies, listens to heavy metal music, eats fast food, reads comic books – are the same old scapegoat triggers you'll find in a thousand tabloid news stories, and ones that sit uneasily in a drama as intelligent and boldly handled as this.

Inevitably Benny's Video anticipates Haneke's notorious 1997 Funny Games, a film that takes some of the themes explored here to an altogether more challenging level. The association is heightened by the recasting in the later film of young Arno Frisch as the boy Benny might just grow to become (prefigured here by the post-killing crew-cut that visually transforms him into the psychotic Paul of the later film) and Ulrich Mühe as the father he arrives to torment. Although never quite as harrowing as Funny Games (but then, what is?), Benny's Video is nonetheless uncomfortable and sometimes disturbing, a film that in typical Haneke fashion can frustrate even as it impresses.

When asked by his father why he killed the girl, Benny responds, "to see what it felt like." For Haneke this appears to be the essence of the story (this real-life response to that very question, given by a young killer, was what first triggered the project). If an individual, and by implication the society in which that individual comfortably exists, experiences reality largely as a media-filtered and delivered experience, what happens to their ability to make moral judgements and connect with the consequences of their actions? Whether you agree with Haneke's conclusions or not – and there are plenty of convincing arguments for either viewpoint – it remains troubling and provocative viewing.

sound and vision

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 transfer is similar to those on the other two films in this set, with contrast, colour and detail generally good, but a slight softness to the picture and a drop-off in quality in dimly lit scenes. This is especially evident in shots of Benny sleeping or attempting to sleep, where gain and compression artefacts are very visible.

Once again the Dolby 2.0 mono serves its purpose well enough, and never feels in need of any sort of remix. Clarity is fine and there are no distortion issues.

extra features

Only one here, and that's the Michael Haneke Interview (20:45), which is once again informative and enjoyable, although I feel the need to take issue with the director over his bemusement at the idea of taking photos or video while on holiday and his suggestion that it is because people are only so detached from reality that they can only experience life through some sort of media. Obviously this is nonsense – people take holiday pictures as a memory aid, to prolong an enjoyable experience by providing a thousand words' worth of links to past experiences and to preserve detail that would otherwise inevitably fade. I have no doubt that Haneke knows this to be true and is playing the provocateur here, in part because the argument sits so well with the film's themes.

summary

A morally challenging work, but if you've made your way through a couple of other Haneke films then you'd expect nothing less, although if you're looking at it metaphorically, some will find the underlying assumptions about society a little simplistic. For those who have discovered the director via his later work, it should be considered essential viewing. Animal lovers might want to give this one a miss.

Benny's Video
Michael Haneke Trilogy

Austria / Switzerland 1992
105 mins
director
Michael Haneke
starring
Arno Frisch
Angela Winkler
Ulrich Mühe
Ingrid Stassner

DVD details
region 2
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby mono 2.0
languages
German
subtitles
English
extras
Interview with Michael Haneke
distributor
Tartan
release date
4 December 2006
review posted
17 December 2006

Related review
Benny's Video [single disc edition]

See all of Slarek's reviews