A Nation of Two



As part of my annual catching up with Oscar, I overcame my reluctance and saw Michael Haneke’s Amour. Haneke’s preoccupation with cruelty, both physical and psychological, typically makes for heavy going, and inclines one to approach any film of his titled “Amour” in the dread expectation of some appalling irony. He’s one of those European directors (Lars von Trier is another) whose achievement is inseparable from the will to torment characters and audience alike; in place of épater la bourgeoisie he proposes massacrer la bourgeoisie, and thus subjects us to a family committing suicide in The Seventh Continent, and to the two-hour nightmare of Funny Games, in which a vacationing couple and their young son are set upon by two posh-seeming young men who knock at the door, asking politely to borrow an egg, then proceed to brutalize the family in a weekend of torture and death. Such cinematic sadism combines with an intense and enigmatic visual style to make Haneke that most problematic of directors: hard to watch, and hard to stop watching.

For me this knotty paradox was untied by his last film, The White Ribbon, a...

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About the Author

Rand Richards Cooper is Commonweal's contributing editor.