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by Michael Haneke

grade: 8

In The Seventh Continent, Michael Haneke’s first feature film, what we observe is the progressive and sudden disintegration of the contemporary bourgeois family, observed and approached in an almost Schnitzlerian style, complete with omnipresent violence that is never really represented before our eyes. A constant theme, this, in Haneke’s rich filmography.

In the beginning was already Haneke

In May 1989, during the 42nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival, The Seventh Continent was presented in the section Directors’ Fortnight. This was the first feature film by a director who had already been making a name for himself in Austria for a few years, thanks to his numerous and valuable works for television. This interesting film director was Michael Haneke, who would become, in the following years, one of the best known names – outside the national borders – of contemporary Austrian cinema. And so, with The Seventh Continent – which was immediately well received by audience and critics – the so-called Glaciation Trilogy (which also includes Benny’s Video, made in 1992, and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, made in 1994) officially began. A trilogy, this one, which immediately distinguished itself for its great clarity and merciless sincerity in characterising in detail today’s society.

Nowadays, therefore, many of us have had the opportunity to learn about the famous Austrian director, although not everyone has had the opportunity to watch his early works. Yet, at closer look, the main hallmarks of his personal style can already be recognised in these early works. But let us go step by step.

Born from the idea of making a (free) adaptation of a news story involving the presumed suicide of an entire family (a case, however, that has never been completely solved), The Seventh Continent shows us the stories – over a three-year period, from 1987 to 1989 – of Georg (Dieter Berner), his wife Anna (Birgit Doll) and their little daughter Evi (Leni Tanzer). An existence, theirs, consisting of monotonous and repetitive moments, in which actions are almost automatic, without the characters themselves paying attention to what they are actually doing. This is expressed particularly well both by the division into three acts (within each of which the rituals of everyday life are repeated in an excessively mechanical, but also meticulous, even almost maniacal way), and by the camera shots, in which great emphasis is put on the objects, and thanks to which the spectator himself has to wait a long time before he can see the protagonists’ faces. An existence within which the loneliness of each of them is the absolute protagonist. The same loneliness that drove little Evi to pretend to be blind, seeking, in this way, the sympathy (and love) of schoolmates and teachers.

A work, this one, where, in fact, Haneke’s touch seems more mature, confident and authorial than ever. This is proved by the numerous off-screen elements (among which, precisely, the protagonists themselves, whose voices we initially only hear), as well as by that forced, disturbing normality that presages something terrible for a family, that of The seventh Continent, whose initial equilibrium is upset by an event (the death of the protagonist’s mother) that we don’t actually experience (because it has already happened by the time the film starts), but which only starts a real existential collapse. A collapse which, despite the dream of escaping to faraway countries (in our case, Australia), doesn’t seem to give the protagonists a chance.

In short, what we are watching here is the progressive and sudden disintegration of the contemporary bourgeois family, observed and analysed in an almost Schnitzlerian manner, with all the subtle omnipresent violence, which is never really represented before our eyes. This is a constant theme within Haneke’s rich filmography, which has been the leitmotif of the aforementioned trilogy and which has recently seen its (definitive?) fulfilment in the excellent, extremely lucid and terribly merciless Happy End (2017). Interesting, in this regard, is that both protagonist girls have the same name: Evi in The seventh Continent, Eve in Happy End, both of them proving to be, in one way or another, the most human characters in both feature films, in which there is, in fact, sadly very little humanity. Is it just a coincidence?

Original title: Der siebente Kontinent
Directed by: Michael Haneke
Country/year: Austria / 1989
Running time: 104’
Genre: drama
Cast: Birgit Doll, Dieter Berner, Leni Tanzer, Udo Samel, Silvia Fenz, Robert Dietl, Elisabeth Rath, Georges Kern, Georg Friedrich
Screenplay: Michael Haneke, Johanna Teicht
Cinematography: Anton Peschke
Produced by: Wega Film

Info: the page of The seventh Continent on iMDb