Michael Haneke is a very frustrating man. His films never have a cheery disposition and every time you finish one of his movies you need to take a nice, cold shower. From his first film to what he’ll bring the rest of his career I very much doubt we’ll use the word ‘happy’ in a review. But there is no denying he is a brilliant filmmaker and one of the things I personally like about him is how he loves to keep the frame on one place for long stretches of time. For example check out an excerpt from an early feature of his called 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance:
Just imagine you are watching this movie, which again I must remind you isn’t pleasant, and you come on to this scene. An almost three minute clip of a man playing ping pong by himself. Why on Earth is this in the film or at least why is it that long? The brilliance relies on it’s length and the fact Haneke keeps the frame on him and at this Wide shot.
We are basically seeing this man have a nervous breakdown right before our eyes. Not only does he make a great job staying intense the whole time but he subtly changes as the scene goes further. Look at his face and see how intense he keeps getting but then slightly loses it midway through. Whatever happened to this man he is has totally hit his breaking point while playing such a monotonous game. The sound design is also crucial too as the constant repetition of the ball being launched to the man hitting the ball is a nice metaphor to how his brain is getting smashed around on the inside.
We have seen a lot of mental breakdown in films. Some of them have been outrageous and others have been done very calmly. This is the only time I can recall where an actor and filmmaker was able to pinpoint it as realistically as possible. Coming from a man who has had slight, mental anguish in the past (but not to this degree and to how it all resolves itself in the end of the film) I find it to be the most actual portrayal of a mental breakdown in film. It might seem annoying but stick with it and you can see the subtle genius that is Michael Haneke.