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SEVENTH CONTINENT, THE (Siebente Kontinent, Der)(director/writer: Michael Haneke; cinematographer: Anton Peschke; editor: Marie Homolkova; music: Alban Berg; cast: Birgit Doll (Anna Schober), Dieter Berner (Georg Schober), Leni Tanzer (Eva Schober), Udo Samel (Alexander), Silvia Fenz (Customer), Robert Dietl (Oertl); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Veit Heiduschka; Kino; 1989-Austria-in German with English subtitles)
“Intelligent, hard-hitting, nightmarish family drama that’s based on a true story and told in a repetitive clinical style that reflects the subjects’ anomie.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

German-born writer-director Michael Haneke’s (“Funny Games”/”The Piano Player”/”Cach√©”) first film is an intelligent, hard-hitting, nightmarish family drama that’s based on a true story and told in a repetitive clinical style that reflects the subjects’ anomie. It has a middle-class Austrian family, the Schobers, slowly disintegrate over a few years and by the third year for no rational reason we view them cracking up completely as they opt for suicide out of the drudgery of an automated world where they can’t seem to adjust to. The assured work is upsetting and meant to be shocking; in its measured storytelling, with sparse dialogue, it makes a tragically chilling statement about modern times and urban living. It gradually builds in its malaise to the tense violent conclusion, giving it an eerily impressive stylish look. This was the first film of a trilogy made by Haneke, that follows with Benny’s Video (92) and concludes with 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (94).

It opens with the first part in 1987, and we turn our attention to the presentation of the rigid, comfortable Schober family: the factory engineer executive on the rise in his career, George (Dieter Berner), the family patriarch, his uptight and sardonic ophthalmologist wife Anna (Birgit Doll) and their disturbed adolescent daughter Eva (Leni Tanzer) who is given to lying. They are first seen sitting like mutes, as they ride through a car wash and eyeball a billboard advertising Australia as a spot to vacation in because of its coastline. In school Eva strangely pretends to the teacher that she’s suddenly gone blind, and her mother gets her to say what happened promising not to punish her but upon finding out from Eva that she lied to the teacher she’s slapped hard across the face. Anna’s young adult brother Alexander (Udo Samel) lives with them and has suffered from a mysterious nervous breakdown, and is delicately treated by his sister. By 1988 the family can’t deal with the emotional disconnect in their insular world and can only have a good cry over it as the go through the same car wash and again view the ad for an Australian vacation as a possible escape to find happiness. By 1989 the family has dug their heels in their malaise and from out of the blue George quits his job, destroys all his possessions and wifey says they are emigrating to Australia. Their departure from Austria is a little more dramatic.

It’s a harsh, understated and upsetting film that offers no sugarcoating for the hauntingly sublime brutal conclusion. The film is presented as a ritualistic exercise as it follows in detail the mundane parts of the family’s everyday life, from rising in the morning to dining to watching time killing TV programs of little substance, and over time we see them become so paralyzed from such an empty life that they have become utterly mad. Because of the beautifully composed repeated images throughout every tableau, followed by the screen going blank, the film seemed to put these strange earthlings under the microscope and in such vivid details we got an eyeful of an extremely terrifying emotional reaction to being cut off from modern life from a family that seemed to have more than what others have materially and should not have been so depressed. Though this film suggests that living such a banal life is itself a form of violence, and that could lead to an acting out of real violence that shouldn’t be that surprising to society.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”