Benny’s Video is a far cry away from Michael Haneke’s latest film, Amour. Amour deals with unconditional love, loss and everything in between, in an honest but human way. It makes a statement but without Haneke’s usual ‘…f**k you, I don’t care what you think or feel, this is the situation…’ mode of delivery. Benny’s Video, a movie which is twenty years Amour‘s senior, couldn’t be further from it in every respect.
Benny’s Video movie deals with the age old meta-narrative that suggests violent imagery, such as movies, and heavy metal have a direct influence on young [male] adults’ perceptions of reality and the world around them. From the outset, Benny, played by Arno Frisch (who would later go on to star in Haneke’s Funny Games), is presented to the audience as a kid who is fascinated by moving images, whether its his video nasties or a homevideo of his mother’s family bolting a pig in the head. The main establishing-the-character scene is played out with a deliberately analogue home video look, which does not feel cinematic in the slightest and is clearly a method of alienating the audience and trying to cause discomfort.
Something that I found extremely problematic with this film is how Haneke’s presentation of Benny flip-flops halfway through the narrative. At the beginning Benny meets a young girl at his local video shop. They start talking and she goes back to his parents’ apartment. After some slow, strained conversation over baked beans, which is almost silent at times, Benny commits a heinous act. This is all played out for Benny’s camera, which is how we see him commit his crime, after which he goes into the kitchen to eat a yoghurt and drink some water; he’s flippant, almost sociopathic. His crime is recorded, and he becomes a star in his very own movie; he can rewind, fast-forward and pause, carry on with his life, and then get back to his movie. There is some commentary in here about our relationship with violence, but it is so uncomfortable to watch I feel the message gets lost.
Then the film does a switcheroo. Benny’s parents discover what he’s done, and the madness we all suspect Benny of is suddenly out-psychoed by the decisions the adults make in the movie. Benny is then a lost kid who has made a mistake and can be on the path of redemption, should he choose to accept. We see various scenes of bonding with his parents, a trip to North Africa, and some dinner pleasantries. Maybe I was expecting more horror aesthetics throughout, so my preconceived ideas of the film may have been tainted, but I don’t think it helps that the film feels lost within itself. All that is evident here is Haneke’s penchant for making films that are sometimes impossible to enjoy, but that always have a message to take away from your viewing.
Benny’s Video is definitely not one I am going to watch again ever. I found it extremely uncomfortable at times, and although I think Haneke has proved himself as one of the best directors of a generation (Funny Games, Hidden (Caché), The White Ribbon, Amour), Benny’s Video is a confrontational film that lacks Haneke’s later eye of engaging his audience with a mixture of subtext, thematics and stylistics.