And often, their reviews of current films are better than most printed articles. One recent example of this is their discussion of Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 2008). I have not seen the new version of the Haneke film, since it has not opened here, but I did watch his original 1997 German language version this week. The new version is apparently a shot-for-shot remake, and most of the reviews have focused more on Haneke's concept of the film, so it seems reasonable to have an opinion about the negative backlash the new version has received. Many reviews mention Haneke's now infamous comment about the film: "Anybody who leaves the theatre doesn't need this film. Anyone who stays does." This has been interpreted by critics as Haneke preaching to the audience, but I think it's more of a descriptive statement than an evaluative one. People who do not watch or enjoy violence have no stake in the film, and nothing really to think about. If you have an interest in watching the film, especially knowing what it is about, it will provoke you. The negative critical reaction seems related to this challenge. It reminded me of the negative reaction of journalists this year to David Simon and his criticism of the press in the final season of The Wire.
After watching Funny Games, I finally watched the Japanese animation film The Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988). Although a very different film, Funny Games did make me think about this film differently. Namely, why I wanted to watch a film like Grave of the Fireflies which I knew would upset me because of its subject matter. Many years ago, film scholar Linda Williams wrote about the similarity between genres like horror and melodrama in their appeal to the body of the spectator. These genres are usually critically neglected and dismissed because of their lack of aesthetic distance. They are seen as merely emotion delivery devices. Both Funny Games and Grave of the Fireflies work to separate themselves from the genres of horror and melodrama, respectively. Funny Games does this more deliberately through the address of the camera and the use of extreme long shots and long takes (one over ten minutes long). Grave of the Fireflies does this through the use of animation and by keeping the violence off-screen. Nevertheless, Grave of the Fireflies still works as a tear-jerker, while Funny Games still creates a visceral impact in its use of violence.
As films, I think they are both great achievements. Grave of the Fireflies works as a humanist drama about war and its consequences, but is best seen as a corrective to other war films. Funny Games is as anti-humanist as most films get, but also works as a mediation not so much on film violence (of which there is little on-screen) as to why we watch any "disturbing" movies (including Grave of the Fireflies) to begin with.