not so funny games


Dostoevsky famously railed against Turgenev not for attending an execution, but for being unable to watch the final, grisly moment when the condemned’s head was chopped off. “No person has the right to turn away and ignore what happens on earth,” Dostoevsky later fumed to a friend, “and there are supreme moral reasons for that.” I am reminded of this Russian literary dispute whenever I watch the films of Michael Haneke, the German-born Austrian director who has managed to achieve simultaneously the status of revered auteur (complete with a MOMA retrospective and Cannes acclaim) and reviled-Austrian-at-large. (Usually, one is first the provocateur, then the master, but Haneke, in a Teutonic coup, has managed to inhabit both roles concurrently). His genius, it seems to me, is to straddle without comprise this Dostoevsky/Turgenev divide: Philosophically, he is the former; formally, the latter. His heart, no doubt, is with Dostoevsky, but he does not (as Dostoevsky surely would if he survived long enough to wield a Hi-Def camera) force us to watch the beheading. Rather, he forces us to watch ourselves turning away from it.

more from TNR here.