Benny's Video (1992)
"Benny's Video" is the first Michael Haneke movie I have watched and trust me it is an experience I am likely not to forget in a hurry, well any movie which opens with footage of a pig being slaughtered is going to leave some sort of impact especially when having watched it once we get it again but in slow motion. It is a shocking and there is plenty more about "Benny's Video" which is just as shocking but it is also a clever movie. I say clever because Haneke delivers a story about a young boy who watches violent movies and acts out a moment of violence but he leaves the interpretation of what this all means open. He basically distances himself from delivering a definite opinion via using a documentary style production. And whilst it is obvious to say well violent videos lead to an act of violence the cause actually presents itself as something deeper. The trouble is that not only is "Benny's Video" very different but it also sadly loses its way at around the half way mark and seems to go nowhere making it sadly hard work.
Benny (Arno Frisch) lives life in the darkness of his room watching violent videos especially one which includes the slaughter of a pig. He has no real relationship with his parents and prefers to live life through a video camera recording what he sees so he can watch it back from his room. When his parents go away for the weekend Benny invites a young girl around and after showing her the video of the pig slaughter pulls out the special gun used in the video.
So as already mentioned I personally think "Benny's Video" is clever because it doesn't deliver an implicit opinion on what happens. As such we have the facts, we have Benny who lives in his room, watching violent videos and listening to heavy metal music. He also enjoys videoing things via his various cameras and then watching the events back from within his room. And then we have his parents, isolated figures who don't seem to understand him, almost cold in the way they treat him.
Now with that in mind we watch as Benny ends up imitating the pig slaughter when he invites a girl back to his place, his parents are away, they have never met and after showing her the footage of the pig slaughter pulls out the actual pig gun. The immediate thought you take from this is that having become so immersed in the world of violent videos it has turned Benny into a violent person who having seen murder on film imitates it. But then thrown is in the fact that Benny chooses to live life almost behind the lens, videoing experiences to then watch back in his room and you have the question of whether he has become detached from the real world, seeing what he sees on screen as real and so uses the pig gun on the girl because to him that is real. In fact watching the way he emotionally tidies up afterwards, having something to eat suggests that what he has seen on video has become his world.
Now the thing is that all of this suggests that Benny's fascination with violent videos is the cause of all of this. But you could also say that the lack of understanding and interest from his parents are to blame, they certainly are not aware that this young boy watches violent films in his bedroom and if they are then they're not bothered to be a real parent. It almost suggests that maybe this act of violence was partly a cry out for some parental love, to feel real life. And when that doesn't work because of how his parent's deal with the situation it causes more peculiar behaviour. Basically Haneke has delivered a movie where it is very easy to jump to a conclusion but when you look deeper the cause may not be as simple as first perceived. Is he saying that violent videos caused Benny to act in a violent way or was it poor parenting which was the root of the problem.
The trouble with "Benny's Video" is that for the first half it is great, we have Benny and his act of violence and then we have him coolly showing his parents the video of what he done. And that scene is terrific because we have this look of shock, disbelief but also a strange admiration in the faces of his parents as they discover his secret whilst he sits there watching almost waiting for them to scream at him, disappointed when they don't. But then we get the second half of the movie which starts well enough with Benny's parents deciding what to do, turn him in or somehow dispose of the body and cover up. Yet for some strange reason we get this rambling story which goes nowhere and feels basically like padding, scenes with out purpose.
But whilst things seem to go a bit awry in the second half it is still a movie with three terrific performances from Arno Frisch, Angela Winkler and Ulrich Mühe. And what makes them so terrific is the sense of detachment they deliver, detachment from each other and detachment from their situation. It makes it a chilling, quite scary experience when they calmly watch what Benny did and discuss the options.
What this all boils down to is that "Benny's Video" is a strange, chilling, often shocking but also memorable movie. It's not just memorable because of the acts of violence but also for its ambiguity when it comes to what was the reason why Benny did what he did.
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