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BENNY’S VIDEO

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by Michael Haneke

grade: 8.5

In Benny’s Video, reality is what we see, but also what we can manipulate at will. Michael Haneke knows very well where to direct our gaze, simply letting the images speak for themselves and – through monitors that almost act as a ‘filter’ – showing us a distorted world, a sick world.

Victim and perpetrator

Renowned director Michael Haneke has always paid great attention to the society in which we live, where we are constantly observed and judged, but where, at the same time, we are hardly ever considered as human beings as such. These complex themes, true cornerstones of the Glaciation Trilogy, which began with his debut feature The seventh Continent (1989) and ended in 1994 with 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, found further fulfilment in his second feature film, Benny’s Video, made in 1992 and in which he developed an interesting analysis of the act of seeing and the progressive deconstruction of the image in the post-modern era.

Benny (played by Arno Frisch, who would work with Haneke again in 1997 in Funny Games and in The Castle) is thus a teenager from a wealthy family who spends most of his days locked in his room watching films (many of which were shot by him) on television. The boy practically never interacts with his parents (Ulrich Mühe and Angela Winkler) and even at school he already has adult attitudes, used to handing out medicines to his classmates in exchange for money. One day, the boy meets a girl his same age at a video store, invites her to his place, shows her a video he shot of a pig being killed and, after showing her the gun with which the animal was killed, kills her in turn. Everything, at the same time, is filmed by his camera.

Benny, therefore, is practically the outcome of a sick and selfish society, in which there is no consideration for human beings and in which the desire to observe and to be observed – further accentuated by the spread of new media – is the absolute protagonist. Similarly, what happens is often shown to us by Haneke precisely through a monitor, in which we can also see the brutal murder of the girl, complete with desperate off-screen screams.

In Benny’s Video, reality is what we see, but also what we can manipulate at will. Just as the video of the killing of the pig, which is played over and over again by Benny, first at normal speed, then in slow motion, shows us. Or even as proved by the boy’s parents, who, once they learn what happened, try in every way to ‘erase’ what their son has done. No one is really innocent or completely guilty, in Benny’s Video. Or, better still, the evil within the society in which we live now seems to have the upper hand in every aspect of our daily lives. And, unfortunately, there seems, at the same time, to be no hope of redemption either.

The almost total absence of music (except, of course, for brief diegetic music), a minimalist direction that – just in the style of the Viennese filmmaker – makes the off-screen his workhorse, as well as dark and cramped environments immediately convey a strong sense of claustrophobia. Michael Haneke knows how to play skilfully with all these elements and, at the same time, knows very well where to direct our gaze, simply letting the images speak for themselves and – through monitors that almost act as a ‘filter’ – showing us a distorted reality, a sick reality. A reality that, in this important Benny’s Video, is the quintessence of the evil in each of us.

Original title: Benny’s Video
Directed by: Michael Haneke
Country/year: Austria, Switzerland / 1992
Running time: 110’
Genre: drama
Cast: Arno Frisch, Angela Winkler, Ulrich Mühe, Ingrid Stassner, Stephanie Brehme, Stefan Polasek, Christian Pundy, Max Berner, Shelley Kästner, Hanspeter Müller
Screenplay: Michael Haneke
Cinematography: Christian Berger
Produced by: Langfilm, Wega Film

Info: the page of Benny’s Video on iMDb; the page of Benny’s Video on the website of the Filmarchiv Austria