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71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance
cast: Gabriel Cosmin Urdes, Lukas Miko, Otto Grunmandel, Udo Samel, and Anne Bennent

director: Michael Haneke

95 minutes (15) 1994
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail
[released 4 December]

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Before Funny Games made him a cult figure and before Hidden (aka: Cache) made him a household name, Austrian director Michael Haneke had made a number of films including his 'Trilogy of Emotional Glacification', of which this is the third part.

Based on real events, the film begins by telling us that a man will walk into a bank and kill three people before turning the gun on himself. For an hour and a half, the largely dialogue-free film follows a number of different people including students, a pensioner, a couple trying to adopt, and a homeless child. Each short vignette is shot from a motionless camera and is book-ended by a few seconds of black, and occasional news footage of wars in Yugoslavia, Ireland or Somalia. Just before the film is about to end, one of the characters indeed walks into a bank, fires indiscriminately into the crowd, walks calmly back to his car, sit down and then blows his brain out.

One of the interesting things about Haneke's work is that much like his Teutonic contemporary Werner Herzog, he is a deeply thematic director in so far as many of his films turn out to be about similar things. For example, his 1992 film Benny's Video pre-empts 1997's Funny Games and this film similarly pre-empts the vignette-based approach of 2000's Code Unknown. However, aside the methodological similarities with Code Unknown, this film is also very similar to last year's break-through hit Hidden.

When Hidden was released in France, it was met with a predictable barrage of acclamation from critics. The most common interpretation of the film is that it was a cutting and brutal diatribe against middle class racism and detachment. However, if you leave your pre-conceptions at the door, the film actually goes out of its way to not paint the actions in the film as a response to the main character's youthful xenophobia. 71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance is similar to Hidden in that it too seems to fit a number of quite easy middle-class cause célèbres but, upon further scrutiny, it actually refuses to sit happily with any of them. Whether you try to paint the film as depicting a world without love or tenderness or a character study of a man driven to insanity, the film refuses to yield up any easy answers... preferring to ask questions instead.

Steadfastly refusing to fall into any kind of narrative structure, the film's direction is nothing short of masterful as each vignette has the camera practically static thereby relying entirely upon the director's ability to frame an interesting scene, which he does repeatedly. From the shot of the homeless child deciding upon which magazine to shoplift to the anguished expressions of a couple as they fail to bond with the sullen child they are hoping to adopt, Haneke has an eye for memorable images. The film also boasts some superbly naturalistic performances from a superb cast that seem happy to act without dialogue but when required to deliver the film's excellent dialogue, do so with gusto and aplomb.

Whether or not you are likely to enjoy your film will largely depend upon what you feel about - a) non-traditional approaches to narrative and - b) the nihilistically cold and misanthropic films of Teutonic auteurs. 71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance is an intelligent and beautifully made film but, because it seeks to ask questions rather than provide answers, and because the questions it asks lead one to reach such bleak and depressing conclusions, it really is not for everyone. However, if you are looking for an intelligent art house film and want to venture outside of your comfort zone, you will not find much better than this.

The Michael Haneke trilogy - The Seventh Continent, Benny's Video, and 71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance - is released as a DVD boxset by Tartan.

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