The rise of Austria’s severe Michael Haneke to prestige—and even a taste of commercial success with last year’s Cach (Hidden)—has been most gratifying to fans of serious cinema. For newbies, Haneke’s not the dude to turn to for light fare. Rather, he rigorously presents scenarios of domestic breakdown, marked by abrupt violence (something of a signature) and uninflected acting.
This early feature, a multifaceted chronicle of a bank-lobby shooting, shows the elements of Haneke’s style maturing nicely, with room for growth. Long takes flaunt their meanings a little too obviously: A college student (Miko) furiously bats Ping-Pong balls against a mechanical server; how long before he becomes unhinged, etc.? Elsewhere, a Romanian orphan (Urdes) wanders the streets of Vienna while newscasts interrupt with images of foreign warfare. It’s a cruel world.
The tone is deathly serious, with periodic stretches of pitch-black nothingness that could be called palate cleansers if the scenes’ flavor actually varied. The third film in a loose series, Haneke’s dour blast is commonly received as the conclusion of a “trilogy of glaciation” (in the director’s own words)—and it’s hard to deny the frostiness on display. But with his next feature, 1997’s ultradisturbing Funny Games, Haneke would actually invest that glaciation with despair; it’s where his career properly begins. (Opens Fri; Anthology.) — Joshua Rothkopf