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Arguably, no greater cinematic interpreter of alienation exists in the world
today than Austrian director Michael Haneke. Haneke shows us characters
whose response to the world around them has deadened, people who have
forgotten how to feel, how to love, how to care. The Seventh Continent, the
first film of the trilogy that, with Benny's Video (1992) and 71 Fragments
of a Chronology of Chance (1994), depicts what Haneke has called "my
country's emotional glaciation." Based on a true story of the disintegration
of a middle class Austrian family, the film has little plot, only incident
and observation. Divided into three parts and shot in episodic fragments, as
in his 2002 film Code Unknown, each fragment is tenuously connected by
fadeouts in which scenes start and end abruptly. A mood of banality is
established early in an extended sequence in which a car moves through a car
wash showing all the details of detergent sprays, high-pressure washers, and
rotating brushes. At the end of the car wash is a travel poster beckoning
tourists to visit Australia with a peaceful scene of sand and water, a motif
that is repeated periodically during the film.
The Schobers, husband George (Dieter Berner), wife Anna (Birgit Doll), and daughter Eva (Leni Tanzer), are the happily married family living next door. George is an engineer and Anna an optician. Eva is a bright child of about eight with deep, expressive eyes. The family moves through their morning ritual with precision -- brushing their teeth, feeding the fish, and eating breakfast with little conversation or emotional interaction. The camera avoids their faces, focusing on mundane objects such as a bowl of cereal, an alarm clock, a fish tank, a package of congealed broccoli. This preoccupation with objects underscores the lack of connection between the characters and the things they have acquired. We get our first hint that something is not right when Eva pretends to her teacher that she has lost her eyesight. Anna questions her about the incident, promising not to harm her if she tells the truth but, when Eva admits to the lie, suddenly slaps her across the face ignoring the fact that she is a very troubled little girl. It is from here that the cracks begin to widen.
Depicting ritualistic actions like counting of money at a supermarket, the distractions of television, the meaninglessness of work, the film reflects the powerlessness and isolation of people in modern society. Haneke chronicles a family enslaved to the structures they have created, operating in a morass of emotional vacuity. The first hour may seem slow but it builds considerable tension until it reaches a shattering climax. Little by little the family disengages. George quits his job and writes letters to his parents hinting of something dark about to happen. In the absence of a spiritual core, without the possibility of meaningful action, the family sinks deeper into an abyss, unraveling and discarding the tightly woven structures of their life. Similar in theme to Todd Haynes' 1995 film Safe but with three times the power, The Seventh Continent is a ruthlessly intelligent film that burns its way into your psyche, leaving an indelible mark that will forever haunt your dreams.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Disturbing and shocking?
No. If movies like "Freaks" and "Ecstasy" long ago, and "Color of Night", "Basic Instinct", "Pretty Baby", even "My Life As A Dog", "A Wicker Man" or "Crazy" sometimes get described as disturbing or shocking, this one is far, far beyond. I just don't know the word strong enough.
This is most depressive movie ever made, I'm sure, not because I saw all of them, but I just can't imagine anything being more depressive. It should be strongly forbidden for suicidal persons, cause an army of psychiatrists couldn't prevent taking their lives.
It can't be compared to Greek tragedies, because Greeks had God's will or human wickedness that make tragic events happen. In "Seventh Continent" the tragedy comes from inside. The characters aren't really dying. They weren't alive at all. They had no more life inside than a dishwasher or coffee machine. They just do what they are supposed to, and repeat it day after day. Androids in "Blade Runner" are far more human, even the robot in "Lost in Space" serial is. They have no trouble to commit suicide because, being a machine, they have no survival instinct.
Pasolini's "Salo" is a disturbing movie, but not close to Sade's book that inspired it. Pasolini was interested in politics and homosexuality and omitted most of other contents. Even so, "Salo" is full of violence, torturing, sexuality, sadism. Though far from what we consider normal and acceptable, it still has feelings and passion. There is no violence, sexuality or passion in "Seventh Continent", because a machine can't have or show them. Even killing the pets isn't a violent act, it is equal to combing hair or closing the door. No feelings. Something that has to be done.
Haneke has made more movies and characters like these. Benny in "Benny's Video" has also no feelings (something between autistic and psychopath), but he still explores. Even murder, though heartless, cruel and pointless, is a part of exploring life and it's possibilities, and still leaves a possibility for a life (a kind of hope for Benny and human civilization itself). Characters in "Seventh Continent" went further: they came to the end of exploring and they found nothing. They are not alive and human any more even to be evil. They realized how pointless is their existence. They (adults) have more experience than Benny and they found that they have nothing more to look for or to expect. And with machine perfection they terminate they existence. Not violently, immediately as humans would do - by weapons, bomb that would destroy every trace of their lives. They are not human enough even to die as humans. Compare it to your computer: you click turning off, all the running programs will be terminated, then Windows save its settings and slowly fade away. And at the end there is nothing left. Only what has been left on hard disc. Complete perfection of inhumanity. Only traces will exist in administrations - school, police, job, insurance... Nothing related to humans.
Watch this movie if you have a chance. But be sure to have an infusion of Prozac on stand-by.
Having spent a couple years now browsing thru IMDb, this is the
first film I've seen that actually motivated me to leave a comment.
I've seen 3 other (more recent) movies by Haneke: "Funny
Games," "Code Unknown," and "The Piano Teacher." All of them
disturbed me in their own special way--a feeling that I obviously
don't mind getting from a film. "The 7th Continent," though, really
blew me away in ways that I find difficult but necessary to describe.
This was Haneke's first theatrical film & apparently based on a true story--although I'm always skeptical of such disclaimers (the same was said about "Picnic at Hanging Rock," another great creepy film). It's divided into 3 parts: 1987, 1988, and 1989. Many scenes repeat themselves, and we get a clear sense that the family (dad, mom, daughter) is going through the motions of modern life. The banalities have a bizarre and uneasy edge to them, though, that really piles up by the time Part 3 arrives. All I have to say about the last 40 minutes is: OH MY GOD! I thought Gaspar Noe's "I Can't Sleep" (?) had an excruciating buildup, but that one (with all its explicitness) can't hold a candle to the amount of emotional and physical devastation packed into the conclusion of "Continent."
Fans of Haneke's later work should definitely check this one out to see the origin of his trademarks: no music score, seemingly pointless scenes that linger (often with little or no dialogue), off-putting camera angles (we sometimes see only the actors' hands or feet). While these techniques aren't always successful in his films ("Code" had some interminable moments), they all come together seamlessly in "Continent." A superb work!
Der Siebent Kontinent is a film you should watch. It is not pleasant
does Michael Haneke uses any tricks in order to even interest you about
characters or their lives. Yet, it is as powerful as an atomic bomb during
peace time. It is LOUD and its message (which is whatever you want it to
is right in your face.
It is amazing how a masterpiece needs no soundtrack, fancy camera work or explicit and extended dialogs.
Unfortunately, it is very hard to find. The screenings are rare and no personal editions on VHS or DVD exist as far as I am aware. Many will recognize the "Piano Teacher" approach to directing but, this is as powerful as it can get. One of the finest examples of style not overlapping form.
Treat yourself with this lesson. Watch it if you can. Specially if you experienced depression at a given time in your life.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The seventh continent at the centre of this bleak tale of suburban
dysfunction is as vague and enigmatic as the film itself. Are we
supposed to believe that the geographical state noted in the title is
the rugged, ethereal landscape glimpsed fleetingly throughout key
moments of the film, or is it in fact a much higher state of being that
can only truly be achieved by purging yourself of the trappings of
twentieth century life? The need for transcendence is central
throughout The Seventh Continent (1989), the first feature film from
Austrian provocateur Michael Haneke, who has subsequently gone on to
re-examine this very same theme in his following films - 71 Fragments
of a Chronology of Chance (1994), The Piano Teacher (2001) and Hidden
(2005) - by continually probing the very boundaries of human nature and
the personal and/or social factors that can drive an individual to the
point of complete, psychological transcendence. If you are at all
familiar with Haneke's work you will be partially aware of what to
expect from the film in question, with The Seventh Continent presenting
us with a deep, hypnotic and highly clinical examination of the
break-down in communication between members of a middle-class Austrian
family, and the desire they have to transcend the drab, soulless grind
of their everyday existence and arrive at that mythical place so
central to the title.
Even here, with his first film for cinema, Haneke's iconic style and attention to detail is fully-formed, with the same stylistic flourishes found in his recent film, the highly acclaimed Hidden, already presented in the stark, antiseptic presentation of the world created here. The direction of the film is intended to present to us the emptiness and tedium central to the lives of its characters, by giving us scenes that play out in long, unbroken takes lasting anywhere between five to ten minutes, with the camera often locked off and immobile in order to further emphasise the idea of clinical examination. In this respect, the film is less about telling a story and presenting emotions in a manner that we might expect from cinema, but instead feeling more like a science experiment, with Haneke as the biology professor inviting us to take a look through the lens of the microscope. In keeping with this idea, the way in which the drama unfolds and is presented is again drawing heavily on the director's desire to create a mood for the audience that in some way mirrors that of the characters depicted on screen. So, the slow pace, deliberately minimal use of editing and the constant repetition of scenes, actions and events all help to create that same sense of tedium and lifeless banality in order to create a reaction or even a sense of empathy from those of us watching this very ordinary family spiral so terribly out of control.
These themes are further reinforced with the film's near iconic opening shot; a locked off, low-angle perspective of a family saloon moving slowly through a service station car wash. The shot, presented in real-time, lasts somewhere between five or six minutes, but on our first exposure to the film, feels much, much longer. Although it will undoubtedly infuriate some, it establishes the style and pace of the film perfectly; whilst also creating something of an atmosphere of empty, soulless routine. Why wash the car when it will only get dirty again? Later in the film the shot will be repeated within context to further illustrate this point. From here we cut to a montage of cold, clinically arranged images of domestic cleansing; toilets, shower-heads, sinks, plug-holes, toothbrushes, etc. It's almost ten minutes before we even see a character's face or find any kind of meaningful exchange of dialog, with Haneke instead presenting the ideas of routine, conformity, cleansing and facade. The notion of cleansing, both literally in this instance, and spiritually as the film progresses, is an important theme, with the family effectively cleansing themselves from society; stripping away every layer of the superficial and eventually taking the final leap of faith into the unknown.
Even here, as the family take their house apart piece by piece and destroy their belongings in order to free themselves from the shackles of routine and social responsibility, we have the action presented as a series of hypnotic, gruelling and repetitive montages that stress the weight of effort required to even escape the horrors of the mundane. Admittedly, I could be reading this the wrong way, but to me the implication is clear; that the family - for one reason or another - have simply ceased to exist. Even before the film begins they have been consumed by life and are now numbed to its pleasures, no matter how few and far between. As a result, many will find these characters hard to like and even harder to empathise with, particularly in the selfishness regarding their child. In one of the most moving scenes, Haneke drops his guard, and for the first time allows his polemic to be overtaken by emotion; as the family sit motionless on the couch, the television set flickering in the dark, with Jennifer Rush singing her anthemic hit The Power of Love as their house lies in ruins, the little girl drinks her milk and softly proclaims "its bitter!". The Seventh Continent is not as easy film to watch; nor to appreciate on any immediate, emotional level. Like much of Haneke's work it requires an enormous amount of thought and effort on the part of the audience to really think about and deconstruct what it is that he is attempting to convey, and only then are we able to truly understand and appreciate what the film is really about.
I went into this film with very high expectations. Unfortunately, I
can't say that it lived up to them. The first hour is incredibly dull,
as we watch an upper middle-class family lifelessly perform mundane
tasks (take a shower, eat breakfast, tie shoes, etc.). I failed to
sympathize with any of the characters, and some scenes dragged on so
long that I found my mind wandering. I generally don't mind long takes,
and even in other films by the same director (Funny Games, Benny's
Video, etc.) thought they were used extremely well. However, here they
were simply tedious.
The film wasn't totally a let down however; far from it. The last 45 minutes really picks up intensity and re-grabs the viewer's interest. I won't spoil anything for those who haven't seen it, but the scene in which the family destroys their own house and possessions is extremely well done. The ending is bleak and depressingly powerful, and I realized that it wouldn't have worked without the boring first hour. But that doesn't change the fact that it was boring.
Overall, I had trouble giving this film a number rating, but I guess it would be somewhere around a 6/10. I think it's possible that that number would change on a second viewing, but to be honest, I doubt I would ever want to watch this film again.
A powerful, disturbing film, shot in a highly idiosyncratic style. Michael
Haneke's dissection of Austrian alienation is astonishingly effective. The
style is, for the first part of the film, full of such close-ups that we
don't see the characters' faces for nearly half an hour, but we share with
them their view of the breakfast cereals, shoes and shopping. It should be
boring, but is instead gripping, a quiet build-up to the prosaic horrors to
It is hard to comment without revealing some of these horrors, but the overall effect is shattering, tolerable only because Haneke avoids any real involvement with the characters and their motivations. With hindsight this is a weakness, and I reached the end of the film with the feeling 'what was that all about?'. But it is a film to reflect on, unlike any other that I have seen. Don't miss it - unless you are feeling depressed!
I think that many people will be able to identify with this film. As always, I made a point of knowing virtually nothing about it before I saw it, and I'd recommend doing the same. If you know about the plot beforehand, the impact will be markedly ruined. The first thought that came to mind after the first few sequences was "they haven't shown anyone's face yet".. I guess that's the point. If you are reading this, then you most likely are not starving, and are amongst the rich 1 billion of the world. So the actions portrayed initially in this middle class existence needn't any face, as they pertain to all of us, we the regurgitators of human aspirations (weird phrasing). We don't have a face, as there is nothing to tell us apart from the next person. Anyway, it's absurd to think that the mental process that took over the family is considered an exception, but the fact that it is only highlights how sick our society is, refusing to remodel this cataclysmic and decerebrate way of being. I was affected by the subsequent events that transpired, and one particular scene still haunts me in a vicious way, although it cannot be mentioned here... suffice to say it broke free from a certain degree of apathy shown by the main characters throughout, revealing the desperate and twisted cry of raw emotion that can exude from even the most planned chaos. Watch it all the way through, it is meant to bore you for a while, it wouldn't be the same if it didn't.
A family, starved for attention and desperate to escape their daily
life of abrasive routine, decide to turn things around one year and go
against the routine. The film depicts their lives in three painful
years of isolation, meaningless actions, and disillusionment. The first
two-thirds of the film show the loud and hectic world that they are
inexplicably a part of. Everything is just a series of actions. The
semi-apocalyptic sequence shows a kind of desperate forcefulness of
life that never breaks though, and the claustrophobic nature comes
across as frighteningly unnerving. Tarkovsky would be proud.
The Seventh Continent was the second Michael Haneke film I had seen after The Piano Teacher. While I do not think that it is as honest a film as The Piano Teacher, I do applaud the fearless dynamic of the film to be completely devoid of style and of typical film conventions in order to depict a world that grows increasingly unpredictable and harrowing. The film is very Hitchcock-like in how it slowly and quietly builds it's themes involving desolate emotions. It is a tremendously scary film, but it is scary in a way that comes off a lot stronger after the film has finished and you allow it's images to swim around in your head for a while. The loss of passion and of feeling in a human being, to my knowledge, has never been depicted in such a pessimistic way.
This is a very angry film. This is a very resentful film. This is a film that celebrates sadness and anger and I hated watching it. When the film finds time to depict humanity, it writes it off like it is useless. What makes me even more angry about the film, in a way, is how you can almost feel Haneke behind the camera feeling resentful and wanting to punish the audience for wanting to view a film with a good story and a moving and engaging plot. Haneke goes so far out of his way to provide nothing in the way of narrative power and instead opts to craft an angry and traumatizing film. What makes the film work is it's power to provide some deeply haunting imagery and some truly worthwhile substance that I couldn't help but appreciate. Two of these three characters have complete control over everything that happens and they obviously feel that what they do in the final act of the film is most beneficial. Who am I to judge their own control over their lives. What pisses me off is how simple minded they are as characters. I just feel that Haneke prefers to emphasize these problems that these characters share, and what I am bothered by was that he didn't make it less obvious.
Overall, it's not one of Haneke's best films, but for a debut theatrical picture it is about as good as one can get. What strikes me as rather unusual about this film, when compared to his other films, is how it suffers from the same major problems that pretty much all of his films have. For example, he has never been able to build any sympathy with any of his characters, at least from the films of his that I've seen, and this film is no different in that regard. The film of his that I personally think suffers the most from it is Funny Games (both versions). With his picture Cache, it only became a problem early on in the film, and in Benny's Video and Hour of the Wolf it helped add to the atmosphere while damaging the humanity of the films in question. I think that The Seventh Continent shows plenty of promise with Haneke and is extremely riveting at times, but it's easily the absolute worst place to start if you are interested in getting into his films. It will not leave you with a good impression of his work, and only after watching Funny Games and Cache (his most easily accessible films in my opinion) will you be able to catch his reoccurring themes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's very tough assigning grades or "stars" to the films of Michael
Haneke. He tends to trap his audiences within the context of the films
themselves, which makes any judgment of the film a reflection of the
viewer on his or herself. This is very difficult to do as a director,
and very uncomfortable for Haneke's audiences--and Haneke wouldn't have
it any other way.
That said, this is my 4th Haneke film, and I was impressed to see the vision, style and moral perspective Haneke HAMMERS his audiences with as vividly present in "The Seventh Continent", as all of the films I've seen Haneke has released since. However, once again, as fascinated as I am personally by Haneke's style and efficiency, "The Seventh Continent" is another Haneke film that is difficult to recommend to what I would consider a normal functioning adult.
I don't doubt that the story told in "The Seventh Continent" could happen. I don't doubt that it did happen very similarly to the way it was presented. What I take issue with is that it comes off as a stinging rebuke of the monotony of modern middle-class life (television's influence, etc...), when more likely, what happened to the family the story is based on was probably caused by something more tangible and less speculative. But even if that wasn't the case with the family the story is based on, the presentation of the fictional family in this particular film is intended to assign blame. And the daily mundane and boring rituals of a typical modern family (even monogamous marital sex) are clearly guilty in this film. And I don't think I personally agree with Haneke's assessment on this issue. (But that's between me and Mr. Haneke ;) )
My recommendation for now is to avoid Haneke's early work in general (maybe up to "The Piano Teacher"). It's not that there isn't much social value in Haneke's early films, it's that Haneke tends to focus on the EXTREME fringes of the human condition in his early work where insanity, mental instability, sociopaths and psychopaths are always going to linger. No amount of cultural change or faults addressing modern suburban middle class existence (or upper class apathy and ennui) is going to change that fact.
The ending and central themes of the film did remind me in a lot of ways (and it's been mentioned here as well) of Todd Hayne's brilliantly dark existential drama "Safe" (Julianne Moore, 1995). And though "The Seventh Continent" came out before "Safe", I would highly recommend "Safe" over "The Seventh Continent". As for Haneke, I would recommend "The Piano Teacher" or "The White Ribbon" as the more evolved director starts to catch his stride. Because Michael Haneke has SOME stride!
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