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Michael Haneke has always been known as an extremely pessimistic director. His films aren't only bleak from start to finish, but what little light is there is usually beaten to a pulp. Here we actually get to experience some genuine joy. Haneke is embracing life and all aspects of it as he tells the story of 50 year old Elisabeth and her visit to her aging father. I loved the way Elizabeth is shown more or less as a young woman, though it is from time to time pointed out that she is aging you never think of her as old. And why should we? 50 isn't the end of the world.
The title refers to the three paths that supposedly go to the nearby lake, but after the maps were written all three had been cut off. In the end her father drives her to the lake instead. It's obviously symbolical. Probably reflecting some kind of happiness that can't be found by following the paths of others or a map. This is obviously just a small part of the film, but it makes a perfect mirror for what takes place.
The story focuses primarily on Elizabeth's visiting her father, but we also get to experience much of her early life through jumbled flashbacks and narration. This was Haneke's third film, and he had yet to find the style that would later make him famous. Various aspects seems borrowed from other filmmakers. The way we see flashes and scenes from past relationships reminds me much of Resnais and Robbe-Grillet and his slightly stilted and almost philosophical dialog sends flashes to both Bergman and Rohmer.
Strangely enough a lot of the power comes from the narration, which explains and explores both thoughts and events in a rather calm, and the way I experienced it - warm manner. Movies that rely too much on a narrator often lacks a great deal in other areas, but here there is much to sing your teeth into.
Is it perfect? Far from it! The dialog often seems a tad too absurd, for starters. But it's a picture of life, as well as a philosophy that might ring true. It's also pessimistic. Of course it is! It's Michael Haneke. But here it's within the every day world and is in no way exaggerated or darkened. This is not testing the limits of deprivation, but rather exploring humanity. And it does it quite well.
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