The aptly, ironically titled “71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance” is the third film in avant-garde director Michael Haneke’s trilogy that began with “The Seventh Continent” and continued with “Benny’s Video,” both of which were shown at Cannes. Intellectually demanding and non-commercial film should be embraced in the festival and arthouse circuits by film students and viewers interested in postmodern, deconstructionist cinema.
Haneke is a cerebral filmmaker who believes that cinema’s most important function is to disturb and disorient its viewers, shaking them out of their habitually passive ways of perceiving reality.
As in his first two films, the plot (if one can describe it as such) revolves around an act of gratuitous violence that, on the surface, defies logical explanation. Premise of his new film is that on the day before Christmas 1993, a 19-year-old student senselessly murders several people and then commits suicide in his car.
Framed as a mystery, the story unfolds in five asymmetrical chapters, beginning on Oct. 12 and culminating on the day of the murder. About a dozen disparate characters are introduced and then periodically revisited, always in a surprising manner. One of the figures who links the fragments is a homeless adolescent, a Romanian exile who’s wandering Vienna’s streets begging for money and shoplifting.
Haneke accepts the ubiquitous presence of the visual media in our daily lives , particularly the omnipresence of TV, video and computers. Each chapter begins with TV’s evening news, often with reportage about war-torn Sarajevo, then updates on the charges against Michael Jackson, using the same footage over and over. Philosophically bent director stresses the numbing effects of the media’s repetition of images and soundbites.
Production values in every department are fine, particularly Christian Berger’s crystal-clear lensing and Mariae Homolkova’s sharply concise editing, both of which are meant to make viewers aware of the arbitrary and manipulative way in which events are pre-arranged and pre-digested for them to consume.
The most accessible film in Haneke’s trilogy, “71 Fragments” offers more illuminating insights about the inherent contradictions and frustrations in our lives than most commercial films today. A cerebral entertainment, it is also one of the few films at the festival this year to provide Cannes its claim for showcasing experimental and cutting-edge cinema.