Holding a silver electroshock-pistol an aging man would drag a fat, squealing pig while a second man will immobilize it with a piece of rope. The first man would then charge the pistol, aim carefully at the pig's head, and pull the trigger. The unsuspecting animal would collapse on the ground with steamy blood trickling down its half open jaw. The two men will then smile at each other, roll up their sleeves, and begin dismembering the animal.
In the far corner of his cozy room Benny would watch the home-made video over and over again. He will pause the exact moment where the pistol sends the electroshock down the animal's spine, rewind, and watch the scene all over again until he finally falls asleep. On the following day Benny would go to his favorite video store searching for something as intense and engaging as the home-made video from his collection.
During one of his trips to the local video store Benny will also befriend an unknown girl with a similar appreciation for cinema. The two will go to Benny's home, have some pizza, and watch some of his unusual films. Benny will even show the girl the violent video with the pig and the electroshock-pistol he has stolen from the old country butcher. Then, Benny will finally test his gun!
When in 1992 Benny's Video won the Grand Prize at the Vienna Film Festival and consequently the FIPRESCI Award for Best Director in 1993 the world was immediately exposed to the work of Austrian director Michael Haneke in a manner that left very little to critics and audiences to be concerned with: Haneke's style was utterly uncompromising, his message(s) powerful, his film truly mesmerizing. Benny's Video steeped into a territory so controversial that some tagged the film exploitative, unsuitable for serious analysis.
Fourteen years later Benny's Video remains as powerful as when I first saw it. The film's harsh criticism towards the alarming presence of violence in media is expressed through an intimidating, overly-violent narrative that indeed steps over the threshold of conventional cinema. In a typical for Haneke manner Benny's Video is literally obsessed with the message it strives to deliver – the camera is often static, there are long moments of silence, music is virtually omitted.
For anyone following European cinema closely it should not be a surprise that no other but Michael Haneke was the director behind Benny's Video. His vocal criticism directed at Hollywood and the meaningless entertainment provided by it has transformed him into a director who more often than not would remain in the shadow of his own work, letting it speak for itself. And in Benny's Video there is very little that needs to be deconstructed by film critics or reviewers. The film is raw, emotionally disturbing, and ultimately too vile not to be taken seriously enough.
Just as it was the case with Funny Games (1997), Code Unknown (2000), and The Piano Teacher (2001), films that Haneke created to snub the society he belongs to, Benny's Video immerses its viewers in a world where everything is being questioned: morality, social norms, humanity. The film leaves a bitter taste in your mouth creating a suffocating sense of desperation that very few films I have seen were able to match. Aged but not outdated Benny's Video truly is one controversial piece of cinema asking questions too terrifying for an honest answer!!
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Benny's Video has been mastered in a similar manner Funny Games was. While the film's print is largely in a very good condition and the original source must have been quite satisfying this also appears to be a PAL-NTSC port. This it quite a disappointing occurrence to say the least but indeed an expected one! Ignoring the fact that Benny's Video is a PAL-port everything else in this presentation is rather well handled - contrast appears at a satisfactory level, detail is quite good considering how the film was shot, and colors appear rather acceptable. However, it has to be noted that a direct comparison between the French release and this R1 release indicates that the colors appear slightly less vivid which I am willing to accept is a product of the actual format conversion. Indeed, I am quite disappointed as this could have been a must better release that we at DVDTALK should have been able to recommend to viewers as Kino's disc is indeed the only English-friendly version of Haneke's film at this point.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with its original German Dolby Digital 2.0 track Benny's Video sounds quite good offering a satisfactory mix that should meet the demands of those wishing to see the film. There is plenty of silence in this film and while I am pleased with the manner in which everything was handled there were two scenes (most notably the hotel room scene in Egypt where I heard some mild hissing). Aside from that everything else appears in perfect condition. In German with optional English subtitles.
Each of the four upcoming discs of Michael Haneke films that Kino are releasing contains an interview with the Austrian director and this DVD is not an exception. There is a newly recorded interview which Michael Haneke gave in 2005, running at about 20 minutes, where the director talks about the message of the film, how the film was accepted by audiences and critics, where it stands in his body of works, and how it reflects the director's vision about cinema. This is indeed a highly entertaining piece of extra which should not be missed.
Well, what else is left to say: Kino continue to release PAL-NTSC ports and we keep reviewing them!! I am probably one of the few remaining people that like the company a lot but I have to admit that at this point I just hope that if and when they jump on the HD-DVD band wagon they will go back to their catalog titles and reissue them. Then, we won't have to worry about improper transfers…I think!!