Michael Haneke: Trilogy
One of contemporary cinema’s most original, provocative, and uncompromising filmmakers, Austrian auteur Michael Haneke dares viewers to stare into the void of modern existence. With his first three theatrical features, The Seventh Continent, Benny’s Video, and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance—a trilogy depicting a coldly bureaucratic society in which genuine human relationships have been supplanted by a deep-seated collective malaise—Haneke established the rigorous visual style and unsettling themes that would recur throughout his work. Exploring the relationships among consumerism, violence, mass media, and contemporary alienation, these brilliant, relentlessly probing films open up profound questions about the world in which we live while refusing the false comfort of easy answers.
The Criterion Collection groups together three of Michael Haneke’s early feature films forming a loose trilogy: The Seventh Continent, Benny’s Video and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance. Each film is presented in this set (aptly titled Michael Haneke: Trilogy) on an individual dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. All three films are presented with 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes. Seventh Continent is sourced from a 35mm interpositive while the other two are sourced from the 35mm original negatives.
It wasn’t a surprise to see Criterion is using older masters for all three films, almost certainly DVD-era ones, but the good news is that the end results still come out looking very good for what the base masters ultimately are, a few hiccups aside. I’d say the end presentations do feature a decent film-like quality in the end thanks to grain being reasonably managed. It doesn’t look entirely natural, featuring a bit of buzzy look a lot of the time, but it’s clearly baked into the supplied master and Criterion’s encode keeps it reined in. This, along with the lack of any obvious filtering, leads to a strong level of detail throughout all of the films, finer ones managing to stick out. Even then, tighter details and patterns do lead to other artifacts, such as shimmering effects and minor jaggies on occasion. Banding can also pop up, and while I would say it’s an incredibly minor issue and easy to ignore much of the time, I found it a bit more problematic during the opening of 71 Fragments with the added issue of blocking patterns popping up as well. I feel a lot of this is baked more into the master but it’s possible the encode comes into play as well.
At the very least the restoration work has cleaned up much of the damage and I can’t say there is much worth pointing out. 71 Fragments features a couple of bigger stains that pop up for a frame or two, but outside of that most of the source issues that remain come down to minor bits of dust and whatnot. Colors also look to be nicely saturated, though the “colors” are limited mostly to blues and grays, a look Haneke goes over in one of the included interviews. Black levels are also rather good but the shadows do end up being flattened out a bit, limiting delineation and depth within them.
In the end all three films would clearly benefit from new scans and restorations but these presentations are still more than solid in the end, much better than I was expecting and very clear upgrades over Kino’s previous DVDs.
All three films come with lossless PCM single-channel monaural soundtracks. The films don’t show off all that much, coming off quiet much of the time, but there are sudden louder moments and the range present in all of the tracks can be rather surprising. Dialogue sounds crisp and clean, and there is no damage to speak of.
When in hand the set ends up feeling a bit like one of Criterion’s Eclipse DVD releases in that it has a no-frills look and feel when it comes to the packaging, the three discs packaged together in a standard 3-disc Scanavo with simple artwork. If that is a line they’re going down with this title and their new Mai Zetterling set (which would be great if only to get more titles out quickly) they thankfully don’t skimp on the extras as they did with the Eclipse line, spreading features across all three discs. The only caveat there is that it appears the material is mostly pre-existing stuff.
On each of the three discs Criterion includes the film’s respective trailer alongside interviews with director Michael Haneke, all recorded in 2005 for other DVD releases and running around 17, 21 and 23-minutes respectively. In them he talks about what inspired the respective stories and what he was trying to say with each film, including how violence is consumed through media by an audience. He covers a lot of material through the three interviews and they’re edited well enough that there is very little that ends up being repeated from one interview to the next, but what I liked most about them is just how open the filmmaker ends up being, even explaining the reasoning behind some of his framing and editing decisions.
Each disc then presents a unique supplement, The Seventh Continent’s disc featuring an interview with Alexander Horwath. Recorded in 2018 the film historian sits for a 28-minutes to go over Haneke’s three early films and explains the impact they had how they form a very loose trilogy. He first talks about the filmmaker’s television background, covering several of his works for the medium, before talking about first seeing The Seventh Continent and the splash it made at the time. This then leads him to talk about the other films found in the set, what Haneke is saying about consumption of mass-media through them and how the critical reactions to these films at the time weren’t too hot. He notes critics fawned more over a film with a similar message, Natural Born Killers, but states he feels it has aged poorly compared to Haneke’s films, feeling they’re far more “durable” in the long run. I found Horwath’s contribution to be a strong addition and it should be beneficial to those just coming to Haneke’s work. It’s also worth mentioning that even though the other two films in the set come up I can’t say there is anything that really constitutes a “spoiler” about them so it should be safe to view before watching the other films.
The second disc featuring Benny’s Video the contains an interview with actor Arno Frisch, which, if I had to venture a guess, comes from the same session footage that went into his interview found on Criterion’s edition of Funny Games. This discussion of course ends up focusing on Benny’s Video, the actor talking a bit more about the casting process here before getting into the production and the moments that stick out to him (the film’s key sequence sticks out in his memory due to the other actor’s performance). He then talks about his character and how he viewed his relationship with his parents. It’s another wonderfully in-depth discussion with the actor providing some terrific insights.
This disc also features another supplement, a 14-minute program around the film’s deleted scenes, with Haneke talking about the sequences at a digital editing suite. Most of the excised footage comes from the film’s final section taking place in Egypt, primarily the “home video” footage shot by Benny and his mother. There was also a whole sequence around a solar eclipse that was ultimately cut out, even though they went to the trouble of creating the central eclipse in a studio. Haneke explains the reasoning for cutting the material out, though it seems to essentially come down to it taking up too much time.
The third disc (holding 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance) then features the set’s biggest supplement, the 92-minute documentary Michael H. – Profession: Director. Filmed while Haneke was busy with Amour the documentary looks back through his film career to provide a deep look into his worldview and his refusal to “console” (for the lack of better word) his audience when confronting difficult subject matter, all of this accomplished through interviews with the director and a look at him behind-the-scenes. The documentary also delivers up interviews with those that have worked with him, including Jean-Louis Trintignant on the set of Amour. It's actually a fairly entertaining biography, far more interesting and energetic than these things can usually be (funny, too, like when the filmmaker recounts being offered a Hollywood feature), but it sadly doesn’t look at his television work and probably features far more clips from his films than it should, some of them containing spoilers. One from Cache is possibly the most brutal one. It’s worth watching but viewers should probably take heed.
The documentary is a superb inclusion and one of the set’s strongest additions, despite some of its shortcomings. Sadly, like Benny’s Video, there are no additional features specific to the film itself, or any sort of academic contribution to close things off.
I would have hope for more academic material specific to each film. This is alleviated a little through an included a 20-page booklet that does hold a new essay John Wray (along with a synopsis of each film). Wray’s essay does get into a little more detail about each film but the meat of the essay still looks at the films as a trilogy while also getting a bit into Haneke’s background.
That all said, for what I’d label a “budget” edition (each film coming to $26 and some change at full price, $13 during a half-off sale) the included material is still very strong, the documentary being an especially nice inclusion.
It has the feel of a “budget” release, something akin to Criterion’s Eclipse DVD line, but it’s still a nicely assembled package. The presentations could admittedly be better, but they are more than adequate and Criterion packs in a handful of intriguing supplements. Minor issues aside, I’d still say it’s a nicely assembled package.