Benny's Video - 1992
Director(s): Michael Haneke
Writer(s): Michael Haneke
Cinematography by: Christian Berger
Editor(s): Marie Homolkova
Cast: Arno Frisch, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Stassner and Ulrich Mühe
Michael Haneke is probably one of, if not the best director "mainstream" audiences do not know about - and while I know of him, and some of his films (Funny Games original/American-remake, and Amour) I have not yet explored his full catalog. Thanks to the Criterion Collection, I now have that opportunity. So, how about we start with one of his more controversial and self-reflective work, 1992's Benny's Video.
The story follows 14-year-old Benny (Frisch), living in Vienna. He is continuously consuming pop culture violence and has taken up the hobby of filming everything around him. He is particularly obsessed with a video he took of a pig being killed at a farm his father, Vater (Mühe). One day he brings home a girl he met on the street, and films himself murdering her in his room. After confessing this to his parents, Vater takes matters into his own hands telling his wife, Mutter (Winkler), to take Benny away on vacation while he disposes of the body.
Haneke's vision of a world inundated by technology and pop culture is bone-chilling, and not that far off from our reality. We see the Benny and his parents living within an apartment filled with pop-culture references all around them - and Benny is so immersed with television that he has a camera point towards the street, instead of only looking out the window. He wants to consume the world through the lens of his video camera, and through his TV screen - keeping him at a distance, living vicariously through his obsession of violence and death. Haneke continually reminds the audience of this with POV video camera shots or showing us events unfold on the small TV screen - adding the same barrier Benny uses throughout the film. Benny even uses his camera to confess to his parents, in the most impersonal way possible, and the reaction of his father (himself obsesses with social status) is somehow more disturbing the act itself. Haneke foreshadows this disconnect by his parents when he shows them watching the news, filled with tragic events, and they are more worried about a party their daughter threw at their home.
Benny is portrayed by a 17-year-old Arno Frisch (Funny Games), and the level of maturity behind his nuanced performance is something to marvel - at many directors would love to have a child actor rise to the location as he did for Haneke. There is not an ounce of remorse behind his eyes, and his reaction to all that is occurring during and after the killing is more in line with curiosity than fear or enjoyment. I never got a sense that he loved what he did but was fascinated by the video he made and the way his parents reacted. Angela Winkler is the only one that behaves as a human being, despite her going along with her husband's plans - you can see her inner conflict of seeing the monster her son has become and wanting to protect her boy. Ulrich Mühe's stoic response to the situation and his calculated plan of removing this poor girl’s body from his home is alarming - and that is a testament to the writing and his performance.
Benny's Video is not a film for everyone, and it is one that many will actively avoid due to the subject matter (and I don't blame them). But from the perspective of Haneke, it is an incredibly insightful look at how he views violence through media and how it can affect the mind of a growing child - something that he would later explore again, in a very different way, in Funny Games. It is also a fantastic social commentary on how our society is entirely desensitized to violence, and they are viewing it through media - in today's case, it would be through the internet. Give it a chance; you may find yourself sucked into Haneke's world.
Benny’s Video is Glass Half Full.
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