18 juin 2008

Three times 4 eggs - Funny Games (2)

First part of the review of Haneke's Funny Games here (sorry for the delay)


Haneke illustrates almost literally here a typical principle of manipulation known in psychology. The idea is to ask little at first to secure chances to obtain more later. Once the foot is in the door it becomes impossible to leave the intruder out, both physically and metaphorically.
When the perverse manipulator knows that what he actually wants will be refused systematically, he sets up a pre-conditioning behaviour, trivial and costless, that will commit the victim into accepting something that would have been easy to turn down otherwise. This experiment was described by Freedman and Fraser, and by Kiesler.

This is my favourite sequence in the film. Watch this precise treatise of manipulation at work:

1) the knife in the water

The father and the boy prepare the sail boat at the deck. Paul proposed his help when they asked a hand to the neighbours at the gate. The family is embarrassed that the dog barks at Paul, which puts them in a situation to apologize for the inconvenience of the dog misbehaviour (which will play a role later). The dog has been barking on and offscreen ever since they arrived at the house. This is a security system signal they didn't pay attention to.
The mother is on the phone in the kitchen and the father sent the boy for a knife. This scene plants two key elements : the functioning phone left on the sink and the knife brought by the boy into the boat. In a patronizing and maternal tone, she says "I want to see this knife again" (she will see it again at the end of the film indeed, on the boat!), implying they might lose it or damage it on the boat.

2) 4 eggs

Peter, the clumsy idiot, comes at the door (behind the mosquito net), on behalf of the neighbour, to ask for 4 eggs.
- "How did you get in?" (Paul, the other guy, was invited in through the automatic gate).
Peter pretends the neighbour told him about a secret hole in the fence between the two properties. The mother never met him before. Under normal circumstances she could easily refuse this odd request and go on with her life, thus escaping a tragic massacre. Unfortunately, it's virtually impossible to reject this meaningless preparatory "participation" (in the manipulative scheme), and thus engages in an escalation of greater sacrifices, always more inescapable!
If Peter had asked for all 12 eggs right from the start, she would have had an easy excuse to refuse without being rude or earning a bad reputation. Moreover she's offered an opportunity to be serviceable, at low cost, to her friend who happened to be inexplicably distant earlier in the opening scene. We realise Haneke (and his killers) had set up the trap much earlier than we thought.
Actually every single word of the dialogue is highly interesting. She offers a cardbox to carry the eggs, he overpolitely declines to cause her the least hassle, leaves it to her judgement. At this point she makes the choice to become helpful to her neighbour, and he doesn't even force her to accept anything. She's empowered by an impression of free will.

3) 4 more eggs

Peter didn't even walk out the frontdoor that the eggs are already dropped on the floor. Peter is so embarrassed that it's touching. As a good housewife, the mother pretends it's no big deal, says these things happen and that the mess is quickly fixed. His immaculate gloves might get soiled so Peter doesn't even try to help her (there is a medium shot of him holding his hands in the air like a surgeon trying to keep them from touching anything). This little (planned) incident puts the mother, once again, in a gratifying position where she could be helpful and merciful, at low cost. She feels good about herself now, and gradually convinces herself Peter is useless and most importantly harmless.
Peter still waits for his eggs. Though she's a little more reluctant to comply and has more reasons to refuse now. The original good deed now costs her 8 eggs and leaves her only 4. The numbers are important here. The first time, it only cost her 1/3 and left her 2/3, so the exchange was acceptable. The second time, the situation is reversed, and the split is unfavourably imbalanced. So the act of giving definitely means something different symbolically.
Remember Peter doesn't actually want eggs (because the neighbours are already dead!), all he wants is to get her to surrender more and more of her free will to him, unknowingly.

The other aspect of the foot-in-the-door technique is the process of commitment. The small inductive act, opens up a favourable inclination to continue to accept similar acts. And it's also expected to be consistent in our actions. If she accepted to give 4 eggs once (and even went on saying how happy she was to be serviceable!), she's most likely expected to accept again. This begins the escalation of commitment, in order to justify the initial act that she was persuaded to do.

Just as she's convinced by his smooth talking, Peter "inadvertently" drops her phone into the sink water. She's really getting annoyed by now, while maintaining a polite face. She's dying to get rid of him as quickly as possible. This time she puts the eggs in a box, despite him politely declining again (sticking to his original easygoing pattern), and sends him home.
Once he's gone, her face is relieved, she even smiles at the way she got all stressed up from nothing. She doesn't even look much bothered by the broken phone. This whole thing cost her more than she first expected when she accepted, but she's happy her good deed will put her neighbour in a better mood for the golf game they arranged the next day.

4) the last 4 eggs

The dog makes more noise. And the mother sees the two intruders rush in to escape the dog attack. The housewife feels sorry of course and is put in a guilt-inducing situation where she has to apologize and make up for it as they blame this misbehaviour on her poor training of the dog. Peter dropped the eggs yet again, because of the dog this time, and asks for the last 4 eggs. The stake raised, now she has to give up all 12 eggs, with nothing left for her. All or nothing.
But the process of commitment carefully set up makes it more difficult to get out of her responsibilities. She has to justify her refusal to hand out the 4 eggs. In fact she finds less credible arguments to excuse herself out. They repeat what she said earlier in a polite conversation, to use it against her false excuses now :
Peter : "You said you will go shopping on Monday anyway"

These 4 eggs, or more exactly the decision to give them for free, represent so much more emotional frustration than their face value. She only withhold the eggs by principle to express her anger and punish them for becoming insistently rude. Step by step, the original 4 eggs cost the price of twelve. Even twelve eggs isn't a big deal for this wealthy bourgeoise, but she doesn't want to be fooled a third time in a row. This trivial demand has been invested with a symbolic stand off. Even if she keeps the eggs to teach them manners, she would have lost 8 eggs and a phone, without the initial expectation to make up with her "upset" neighbour. Not to mention the bad reputation.
She didn't ask anything to begin with... and in 10 minutes she risks to get cross with her neighbours because this clumsy stranger asked for eggs that are useless to her! All this is rather silly.

5) a golf club

Notice that the two strangers entered the hallway, backs to the door (Trojan Horse-like intrusion of the private space in harmless clothes), the foot-in-the-door worked, literally. Suddenly Paul admires with emphasis her husband's golf clubs. These little words both remind her about the game they want to enjoy with the neighbours later on (Paul : "We [intruders+neighbours] don't stand a chance against such perfect clubs"), and flatter her ego (she humbly declares "a club doesn't make the player").
OK, last chance to start the vacations on the right foot. She's persuaded to let him try a swing in the garden, in the hope to put all this petty misunderstanding behind them. She would probably not have let a stranger use the precious clubs under normal circumstances, but this new foot-in-the-door, a step deeper, pushes her to accept this little concession. This will drag her into more trouble of course... She just gave her killer the weapon that will cause her demise!

6) good cop, bad cop

She grew a certain mistrust and dislike for Peter, but she still has to be grateful and polite to Paul because he helped for the boat. The situation now evolved in a good cop/bad cop manipulative relation. Paul plays the good cop, trying to conciliate the clashing parties with compromising solutions. This way it's easier for the mother to concede something to Paul that she would deny to Peter.
When the dog stops barking in a scream, the father arrives to see what's going on. He wants to sort out the conflict, but it's too late. The trap is loaded, the killers planted a firm foothold in the house, the family is hooked.
Paul welcomes the new participant because the dialogue with the mother was at a stalemate. He now can manipulate the father to press his wife into submission. The father doesn't know what happened, and his wife can't explain anything because the whole thing is so silly and she's too humiliated to have to justify herself in public. The father even has to apologize for the aggressiveness of his wife, but still wants to obey her so asks them to leave without the eggs even though he doesn't understand why.

7) a kneecap for a slap

Until now, the conversation is annoying at worse but remains very polite and restrained. In total control of the situation, Paul may taunt his upset victims, push them to the edge and let them make the incriminating step across the decency line. Paul makes a bad remark and gets a slap in the face. Peter instantly grabs a club and demolishes the father's knee cap! An eye for an eye. The father just gave them the opportunity (and the justification) to raise the stake, to go from verbal annoyance to physical violence.

This is really a cat-and-mouse game, the cat enjoys watching the captive mouse suffer, prisoner, struggling to get away. They could use the hyperbolic amount of violence usual in killer movies and end this tragedy before we begin to question our sense of morality. But Haneke wants us to endure the reality of what we asked for when we bought a thriller ticket. Violence isn't just spectacular effects, surprise jumps, adrenaline rushes... Paul and Peter only find it entertaining when the victims are fighting back.

to be continued... (eventually)

Related link:

12 juin 2008

The fate of Cannes 2007 films...

Like Andy Horbal did in his city of Pittsburgh for this year's Cannes line up, I would like to track down the releases in France of all the films in competition last year (award ceremony on 05-27-2007). By looking at last year's batch, we have more distance to appreciate what happens in one year time on the rights acquisition circuit.

It seems the auteurs get their 15 minutes of fame during the festival with a mandatory press coverage. But they are quickly forgotten ever after, unless they are lucky to make a monster tour in the film festivals around the world to garner more acclaims. What concerns me here most especially is the state of distribution of the award winners in Cannes as well as the sidebar selections.

Do artfilms showing up in Cannes get more chances to be acquired on foreign markets?
Personally I don't think we should complain if the films take a long time to see the light of a publicly accessible screen in our country. We have to give time to the distribution market. There are so many films made every year that not everyone is going to get a fast release. The timing of festivals is a world apart, its a semi-private première for professionals and critics. We anticipate a film for a couple of years sometimes, only because we heard about it from festival goers, while we should really just enjoy the moment of its official public release as if it was a first time. This tension is aggravated by the global news network of the web. Wherever a film premières, we can hear about it from afar.

[EDIT: Nonetheless a film is a creation of the present and should be shown to the audience within a reasonable period of time to remain in tune with the contemporary atmosphere (social, political, cultural) we live in! 3 years seems to be a maximum to me, maybe 5 in case the relevance to a time frame is not specific...]

And I don't find it much beneficial for cinema that major Studios today release blockbusters on the same day all around the world. Maybe it's the best counter to piracy they've found, but it kills the local negotiations of exhibition circuits in each country, by not letting them express their preference, their own timing, their understanding of the pulse of their audience. Releases are scheduled by Studios at a pace of "take-the-money-and-run" weekends one after the other, which doesn't leave much room for weaker films to meet their slower audience (anyway I digress).
  • OFFICIAL COMPETITION (22 feature films selected/2 unreleased)
  • UN CERTAIN REGARD (20 feature films selected/5 unreleased)
  • DIRECTOR'S FORTNIGHT (23 feature films selected/6 unreleased)
  • INTERNATIONAL CRITICS WEEK (7 feature films selected/2 unreleased)
There were 72 feature films officially selected at the Official Competition/Un Certain Regard (by Thierry Frémaux from 1615 submissions!), at La Quinzaine (by Olivier Père from a thousand submissions!) and the debuting films of the International Critics Week.

It's been over a year now they made their world première in Cannes. I've been lucky to see 46 of them, at the numerous festival screenings gracing Paris, but the distribution is not as generous in the rest of France for the average movie goer. 15 haven't been picked for distribution in France yet (well two of them are scheduled to come out this September). It might take another couple of years for some and never for others (4 of these haven't even been released in their own country yet).
6 films have only been released in one country, and half of them are French (undeserved/overestimated spot in the line ups, a bit of a French bias there maybe...). If a film is selected at an International Film Festival it is expected to be at least appealing to an audience beyond its own borders and culture, right? We're judging "international films" on equal footing here, regardless for their nation of origin.

Cannes doesn't always give the best films of the year, but it's a good sample of the top tier. Thus it's interesting to know how they fare worldwide on the cinephile markets (if not at the top of the box office). If these don't get distributed, then what chance do stand the artfilms not selected in a major festival?
The numbers of countries releasing these films is taken from the IMDb pages (festival screenings don't count, TV premières or DVD releases do), so might not be entirely accurate or up-to-date, but I'll just use it as a rough indicator.

Expectedly, the "best-sellers" across the most foreign markets are all American submissions : Zodiac, No Country for Old Men, My Blueberry Nights, Death Proof and We Own the Night with over 35 countries reached in one year.
[EDIT: Actually My Blueberry Nights is not an American film like I thought, it's a China-France co-production, so that makes it the most successful non-American film in the Cannes selection, 3rd on the list]
The Palme d'Or winner (4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days) comes next, thankfully, with 32 countries, which isn't bad for a "bleak Romanian movie".
3 French films (awards winners too): Persepolis, Le Scaphandre et le papillon and Paranoid Park also did well (about 30) this year, though made by non-French filmmakers (!). The best French auteur (Breillat) only convinced 8 countries (another league!).

Caramel, a small film from Lebanon (French co-production) meets 20 distributors.
The Jury Prize (at Un Certain Regard), The Band's visit, a modest film from Israel (another French co-production), one of my favourite, was seen in 17 countries.
The Camera d'Or (best debut feature), Jellyfish, also from Israel (also a French co-production) ranks at 9 countries, the Competition Grand Prix (The Mourning Forest, another French co-production) and the Jury Prize (Silent Light, again a French co-production) make 8. The Best Performances winners each don't fare higher. Un Certain Regard Winner (California Dreamin') is at 5.

The others are all in the low single digit, which is disappointing for the influence of the Cannes seal of approval :
Among these gems neglected by the world (the ones I was most impressed by) are PVC-1, Blind Mountain, Solitary Fragments, Yumurta, La Influencia, Ploy, Parpados Azules, El Baño del Papa, Naissance des pieuvres, Aleksandra which deserve a much wider audience, hopefully in the coming years.
Most outrageously for Secret Sunshine which commercial and artistic qualities (more mainstream-friendly than any others in the above list) should earn it a spot near the top (of the cinephile sub-markets)!

Public nationwide release schedule in France for the Cannes 2007 films (57 released out of 72 so far) :

MAY 2007
  • OS : * Zodiac (Fincher) 05-17-2007 (48 countries)
  • OS : * Les Chansons d'amour (Honoré) 05-23-2007 (6 countries)
  • OS : * Le Scaphandre et le papillon (Schnabel) [Best Director] 05-23-2007 (29 countries)
  • DF : Après lui (Morel) 05-23-2007 (4 countries)
  • OS : * Une vieille maîtresse (Breillat) 05-30-2007 (8 countries)
  • OS : * Tehilim (Nadjari) 05-30-2007 (5 countries)
JUNE 2007
  • OS : * Death Proof (Tarantino) 06-06-2007 (35 countries)
  • CR : * The Terror's Advocate (Schroeder) 06-06-2007 (7 countries)
  • CR : Et toi t'es sur qui? / Just About Love (Lola Doillon) 06-13-2007 (2 countries)
  • OS : * Persepolis (Satrapi/Paronnaud) [Jury Prize] 06-27-2007 (31 countries)
  • CR : * Una Novia Errante (Katz) 08-08-2007 (2 countries)
  • CR : * Naissance des pieuvres / Water Lilies (Sciamma) 08-15-2007 (5 countries)
  • DF : Caramel (Labaki) 08-15-2007 (20 countries)
  • OS : * 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days (Mungiu) [Palme d'Or/FIPRESCI] 08-29-2007 (32 countries)
  • SiC : * Jellyfish (Geffen/Keret) [Camera D'Or] 09-05-2007 (9 countries)
  • CR : * My Brother is an only child (Luchetti) 09-12-2007 (15 countries)
  • DF : * La Question humaine (Klotz) 09-12-2007 (3 countries)
  • SiC : * Nos retrouvailles (Oelhoffen) 09-19-2007 (1 country)
  • DF : Un homme perdu (Arbid) 09-19-2007 (2 countries)
  • OS : * Aleksandra (Sokurov) 09-26-2007 (7 countries)
  • DF : Control (Corbijn) [Awards] 09-26-2007 (19 countries)
  • DF : * Tout est pardonné (Hansen-love) 09-26-2007 (1 country)
  • OS : * Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong) [Best Actress] 10-17-2007 (7 countries)
  • DF : Avant que j'oublie (Nolot) 10-17-2007 (1 country)
  • OS : * Paranoid Park (Van Sant) [60th Anniversary Prize] 10-24-2007 (24 countries)
  • OS : * Morning Forest (Kawase) [Grand Prix] 10-31-2007 (8 countries)
  • OS : * The Edge of Heaven (Akin) 11-14-2007 (22 countries)
  • SiC : * Voleurs de chevaux (Wald) 11-14-2007 (3 countries)
  • SiC : * Párpados azules (Contreras) 11-14-2007 (2 countries)
  • OS : * Breath (Kim Ki-duk) 11-21-2007 (14 countries)
  • DF : La France (Bozon) 11-21-2007 (2 countries)
  • CR : * You The Living (Andersson) 11-21-2007 (16 countries)
  • OS : * My Blueberry Nights (Wong Kar Wai) 11-28-2007 (38 countries)
  • OS : We Own the Night (Gray) 11-28-2007 (35 countries)
  • OS : * Silent Light (Reygadas) [Jury Prize] 12-05-2007 (8 countries)
  • CR : Calle Santa Fe (Castillo) 12-05-2007 (2 countries)
  • CR : * The Band's visit (Kolirin) [Regard-Jury Prize] 12-19-2007 (17 countries)
  • CR : * Actrices (Bruni Tedeschi) [Regard-Jury Prize] 12-26-2007 (5 countries)
  • SiC : * XXY (Puenzo) [Critics Week Award] 12-26-2007 (13 countries)
  • CR : * California Dreamin' (Nemescu) [Regard-Grand Prix] 01-02-2008 (5 countries)
  • DF : Garage (Abrahamson) [Award] 01-09-2008 (5 countries)
  • DF : Smiley Face (Araki) 01-16-2008 (2 countries)
  • OS : * No Country for Old Men (Coen) 01-23-2008 (42 countries)
  • CR : * Ye che / Night Train (DIAO Yi Nan) 01-23-2008 (1 country)
  • OS : Promise Me This (Kusturica) 01-30-2008 (7 countries)
  • CR : * The flight of the red balloon (HHH) 01-30-2008 (11 countries)
  • DF : * Elle s'appelle Sabine (Bonnaire) [Award] 01-30-2008 (4 countries)
  • OS : * The Banishment (Zvyagintsev) [Best Actor] 02-06-2008 (8 countries)
  • DF : * O Estado do mundo (omnibus) 02-20-2008 (2 countries)
  • DF : Foster Child (Mendoza) 02-27-2008 (2 countries)
MARCH 2008
  • CR : * El Baño del Papa (Fernandez/Charlone) 03-19-2008 (5 countries)
APRIL 2008
  • DF : * Ploy (Ratanaruang) 04-16-2008 (3 countries)
  • DF : * La Influencia (Aguilera) 04-23-2008 (3 countries)
  • DF : * Yumurta (Kaplanoglu) 04-23-2008 (2 countries)
  • DF : Gegenüber (Bonny) [Award] 04-30-2008 (3 countries)
MAY 2008
  • CR : And Along Came the tourists (Thalheim) 05-14-2008 (4 countries)
JUNE 2008
  • CR : * Solitary Fragments (Rosales) 06-11-2008 (2 countries)
  • DF : Savage Grace (Kalin) ? (13 countries)
  • OS : Import/Export (Seidl) ? (10 countries)
  • CR : * Mister Lonely (Korine) ? (5 countries)
  • OS : The Man from London (Tarr) 09-24-2008 (4 countries)
  • DF : Chop Shop (Bahrani) 09-03-2008 (3 countries)
  • DF : Dai Nipponjin (Matumoto) ? (3 countries)
  • CR : * Blind Mountain (Li Yang) ? (2 countries)
  • CR : Pleasure Factory (Uekrongtham) ? (2 countries)
  • DF : Zoo (Devor) ? (2 countries)
  • CR : * Magnus (Kousaar) ? (1 country)
  • CR : Munyurangabo (Chung) ? (1 countries)
  • DF : * PVC-1 (Stathoulopoulos) ? (0 country)
  • DF : Mutum (Kogut) ? (0 country)
  • SiC : A via láctea (Chamie) ? (0 country)
  • SiC : Funuke, Show Some Love, You Losers ! (Yoshida) ? (0 country)
Day of public nationwide release in France
and followed in brakets by : (indicative number of countries distributing the film as of now, according to IMDb's listing, Festival screenings don't count)

OS : Official Competiton
CR : Un certain regard
DF : Director's Fortnight
SiC : International Critics Week
* : films I've seen

If you want to do the same thing for your country, please leave a link to your listing in the comments below, so we get a more comprehensive idea of how far Cannes shines worldwide.

10 juin 2008

Mitry and filmic language

French Film theoretician Jean Mitry demonstrated that cinema was a language (a linguistic object) as well as an artwork in his book "Esthétique et psychologie du cinéma" (Ed. Universitaires, Paris) : vol.1 - "les structures" (1963) and vol.2 - "les formes" (1965).
"Cinema is the only art that is both an art of Space and Time."
The filmic image not only "shows" : it "signifies", either because it adopts new values through its arrangement with other images (symbol), or because it initiates a process of generalisation and abstraction through its presence on screen (analogon).

There is an intrinsic duplicity in each image :
  • A : To show. "Représenté" (represented).
    The perceived image is like a real space, a portion of the world, seen through a window. Un "trompe l'œil" (optical illusion)
  • B : To signify. "Représentation".
    The projected image on a two-dimensional surface, organised within a frame, is another space, enclosed in a frame that separates it from the represented world. Which is the nature of the filmic image.
The filmic image "signifies" rather than "shows", and is a "representation" rather than a "represented" thus generates a new reality (cinema language) detached from its reality of origin (the real world filmed by the camera). Through its relation with the next frames, through its capacity to offer concepts, through the "restructuration" of space and time inside the frame of the picture, the filmic image cancels out the reality it is the image of, it un-realises reality. The world on screen could be more or less similar to what is around us, but it is a world of itself, with its own dimension and its own developments. Consequently, the filmic image is a kind of language especially because, as for every language, it installs an autonomous parallel universe that cannot be confused with the world we live in.

Mitry differentiates 4 types of filmic images on screen :
  • Descriptive image
    The camera only records a portion of an ordinary reality.
  • Personal image
    The camera makes choices, emphasises certain objects in relation to others, builds symbolic relations between various objects, in other words expresses the "vision of the world" of the auteur.
  • Semi-subjective image
    The camera embraces the point of view of one of the screen character who is given a privileged position within the frame.
  • Subjective image
    The camera effectively becomes the viewpoint of one character (offscreen), seeing exactly what this character is supposed to see, identified and substituted to this character.
Mitry differentiates 4 types of montage :
  • Narrative montage (continuity of actions)
  • Lyrical montage (sentiments transcend drama with continuity)
  • Montage of ideas (total elaboration of a film a posteriori)
  • Intellectual montage (defines ideas dialectically)

my notes from Francesco Cassetti's book "Teorie del cinema (1945-1990)" (1993)