Friday, March 2, 2012

THE SEVENTH CONTINENT: QUITE POSSIBLY THE MOST DEPRESSING MASTERPIECE EVER MADE

If you're someone (especially a hardcore cinephile) who "feels" easily, gets effected easily or is sensitive and you haven't seen Michael Haneke's theatrical debut; 'The Seventh Continent' yet, I would approach with caution. I mean just for the simple fact that I've NEVER started any blog entry off with a disclaimer should give you an indication of how powerful (and damn depressing) this movie is. A true exploration in to the world of depression, isolation, detachment and the horror of getting caught up in the daily routine of alarm clocks, responsibilities, work, commuting, paying bills and other things that can turn us in to human robots. These days the Film Forum (with their uncomfortable seating) has got me interested in the work of Michael Haneke again just like i was back in '05/'06. And it's not like his films ever really leave my mind for that long ('The Piano Teacher' & 'Cache' are two of my all time favorites), but with the film forum's release of 'Michael' (a film heavily influenced by 'The Seventh Continent') as well as the recent Bresson retrospective that just ended last month (a director who heavily inspired Haneke), my interested in his work has been heightened. Part of Michael Haneke's career is kind of an interesting paradox in that for someone SO critical of America and American films (something he made obvious with 'Funny Games'), a lot of the messages in his work applies more to Americans than they do to the Europeans his films focus on. Outside of just 'Funny Games' (which he remade himself in 2009 for American audiences), films like Benny's Video, the story of a young boy who films himself killing a girl "just because", definitely applies to American youth (true 'Benny's Video' IS loosely based on a true story about something that happened in Austria, but at the end of the day violence among youth is a much bigger problem in America than it is in most European countries). You could even go so far as to relate some of the issues in 'Cache' to America (although not fully). Europe has plenty of racist demons they try to keep in the closet or sweep under the rug but no one is more famous for doing that than Americans (on a side note, Haneke's 'Cache' has been set for an American remake since 2008). But nothing applies more to America (and I'm speaking generally) than 'The Seventh Continent'. From the focus that we put on our jobs more than our families or our own health, to the pills we blindly pop in our mouths to cure or fix something, to the endless amounts of media and "stuff" on television that just desensitizes us, 'The Seventh Continent' is very much an "American Movie" no matter what anyone says.
'The Seventh Continent', the first part in Michael Haneke's "glaciation trilogy", ('Benny's Video' & '71 Fragments' being the other two parts) is loosely based on the true story of an upper-middle class Austrian family ("George" - the father, "Anna" - the mother, and their young daughter "Eva") overcome by depression in modern times and ultimately commit joint suicide. Just like we've already explored in "The Cinema Of Michael Haneke" as well as the recent review of Markus Schleinzer's 'Michael', Haneke focuses on banalities and constantly repeats scenes of the families day to day routines (waking up, eating breakfast, showering, work, dinner, repeat). 

DAILY ROUTINE:
This image of the alarm clock below, along with a few others, is an example of one of the shots that's shown quite a few times in the film to emphasize the idea of "routine" and to show the pointlessness of the things we do sometimes. Other cold and emotionless shots that reoccur in the film include cash registers, groceries, gas prices, exchanges of money and images of empty work spaces...

DETACHMENT & THE EMPHASIS ON TELEVISION:
Haneke also places quit a few scenes of our characters staring mindlessly at a television screen (with looks on their faces as if they could care less as to what they're actually watching) to emphasis our detachment with the world and how television desensitizes us. As I've explained before with Haneke, television & voyeurism play a major role in his work and 'The Seventh Continent' is no exception. The glare of the television screens that shine on our characters' emotionless faces becomes quite haunting after a while. There's a powerful scene at the very end of the film when the family has committed suicide and they're lying dead in front of a television showing nothing but static.

By the time I saw 'The Seventh Continent' I had already scene 'The Piano Teacher', 'Funny Games' & 'Cache'. So even though the film starts out (very) slow, cold and dry, I knew that something shocking was on the horizon (I blindly saw this without looking in to the plot beforehand). Through out 'The Seventh Continent' Michael Haneke leaves little cracks and implications to show that not everything is all well with the family as it may seem and eventually depression will consume them. First we see Eva get in trouble at school for pretending to be blind in an effort to get some kind of attention because she's clearly not getting it at home from Anna & Georg. That moment is followed by two very important emotional breakdowns...

1. Anna's angry face moments before slapping her daughter for lying at school. This is a prime example of Haneke's style; long stretches of time with little to no "action" & minimal dialogue, then a sudden spurt of violence or "action" to wake the audience up.
2. shortly after the slapping incident the uncle breaks down at the dinner table pretty much outta nowhere. This scene is pivotal because at this moment we finally see what this film is all about (depression, sadness, isolation, etc etc). This scene is also a little symbolic in that after the uncle has his break down at the dinner table, it triggers the depression in Anna & Georg (almost like spreading a virus) and things go downhill from there...
3. In the middle of the film Anna has a breakdown in the car. This is the first time in the film where the entire family has a real moment together and they bond. Before this, they barely speak to one another or interact like a real family should. Whats sad about this scene however is at this moment the family kinda accepts that they're depressed and cant live anymore.

The title of the movie, reminiscent of Bergman's 'The Seventh Seal', comes from Georg & Anna's plan to tell everyone they're taking a family vacation to Australia (what they consider "The Seventh Continent") when in fact they plan to lock themselves in their home, hide from the world and kill themselves. After that important scene at the car wash when Anna breaks down, we now follow Anna & Georg as they get rid of their all their possessions. They empty their bank account, sell the car and eventually destroy everything in their house. The biggest decision that Georg & Anna face is whether or not to take Eva along with them or to leave her with her grandparents. But early in the film they remember that Eva says she isn't afraid of death, so they decide to die as a family. This is definitely not a family film (to say the least) or something you can have on heavy rotation (because it will depress the shit outta you), but in my honest opinion, its one of the best films of the 80's (easily in my top 10 of 1989) and its something you really should see at least once (especially if you're an American). But have a happy movie on deck afterwards.


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