In Austrian director Michael Haneke’s notorious, horrific 1997 thriller Funny Games, a pair of young men terrorizes a family in their holiday home for unknown reasons. Haneke rarely shows the duo’s acts of violence, but his grueling and bloody depiction of those acts’ respective aftermaths renders the movie utterly unforgettable — and about as far removed from the traditional Tinseltown actioner as is possible to imagine.
Now Haneke has directed an English-language remake of the film, which stars Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, and Michael Pitt, and hits screens on March 14. EW.com spoke to the director (The Piano Teacher, Caché) — via an interpreter — about hating Hollywood violence; despising Natural Born Killers; and why, if you stick around until the end of Funny Games, there may be something wrong with you.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The new version of Funny Games is almost identical to the original. Why did you decide to make it?
MICHAEL HANEKE: Because the German-language version did not find the English-language audience for which the film was originally meant.
Had Tim Roth and Naomi Watts seen the first Funny Games?
They watched the film beforehand in order to know what they were getting into. But, then, during the shooting, I told them not to watch it again because it would have made them very dependent on the prior acting.
Would it be correct to say that the film is a critique of Hollywood’s casual approach to movie violence?
If you want to interpret it that way, I don’t mind.
How else should we interpret it?
[Laughs] I actually never give interpretations of my own films. It is up to the film critics and the audience to do their own interpretations.
Is it true that the original Funny Games was partly inspired by your dislike of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers?
Well, it’s true that I despise Natural Born Killers but that was not the reason for me to do the original film, no.
Why do you show almost no acts of actual onscreen violence in Funny Games?
I don’t really want to be part of this violence pornography of the mass media.
Based on what you’ve just said it does seem like you intend the film to be a critique of Hollywood violence.
Yes, of course, I’ve never said otherwise. I’ve said in many interviews that I very much dislike the consummation of violence as it is depicted in some Hollywood movies. I’m not making any secret out of that.
There are points in Funny Games when Michael Pitt’s home-invading character breaks the fourth wall and suggests, in effect, that he wouldn’t be committing these terrible acts if we — the audience — weren’t watching. You seem to be basically encouraging people to leave the cinema. Is that a fair thing to do to people who have spent 10 bucks to see a film?
[Laughs] I always say, those who watch the film to the end apparently needed it. Those who leave earlier apparently didn’t.
One of my female colleagues saw the film to the end and left in tears, partly because she regretted not leaving before. How do you feel about provoking that kind of reaction?
You mean to say that she had tears in her eyes because she didn’t leave earlier?
Well, if someone has such a degree of self-pity, then I can’t have pity on her.
A trailer for the U.S. version of Funny Games makes it look like a comedy, which is very misleading.
It’s not me who is making these trailers. I never actually care or worry or think about the marketing strategies of my films. But, if these trailers serve to bring audiences into the movie houses — the audience that I like to attract — that’s fine with me.
But they may attract people who think they’re going to see one film and end up seeing a totally different one.
Well, that’s fine too. [Laughs]
It seems ironic that the Funny Games films are polemics against violence, yet the original has this reputation of being a such a violent film.
Yes, of course, it is a violent film because it doesn’t allow you to consummate the violence. Usually, in an action film, violence is depicted in such a way that it doesn’t hurt the audience. As an audience, you feel good about it. It’s almost like you got on a rollercoaster — it’s a thrill. In my films what I’m trying to do is depict violence in such a way that it becomes reality again for the audience.
Do you ever worry that your films will be enjoyed precisely because of their violence?
Well, you know, there aren’t really any remedies against misunderstanding.
Some people might argue that one remedy would be not to make the film in the first place.
Then you cannot deal with the subject in a serious manner.