Michael Haneke’s death-of-the-soul-of-Europe saga soldiers on with 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, the final entry in his so-called “trilogy of emotional glacification.” After x-raying the intestines of the family unit in The Seventh Continent and Benny’s Video, the dour Austrian auteur is ready to go global, bringing various other sides of the planet to the miserabilist equation via his favorite trope, the video image that defaces reality. Although Bosnia, Somalia, and Ireland are some of the countries whose upheavals are here glimpsed through the filter of TV news, Haneke grounds the action in Vienna, where, we are told at the beginning, an athletic young jock (Lukas Miko) will suddenly shoot bystanders in a bank before turning the gun on himself. Lest anybody think the director is going only for Why Does Herr Ping-Pong Man Run Amok?, the narrative soon expands to include such strands as a homeless Romanian boy (Gabriel Cosmin Urdes) eating out of garbage cans, a couple (Anne Bennent and Udo Samel) adopting a sullen orphan, the parents of a feverish baby daughter, and an old man all but abandoned to the chatter of television—a mosaic (or origami puzzle, if you prefer) of modern urban alienation, denied community even in its suffering by Haneke’s isolating framing and blackout edits. Just as Benny’s Video lays the ground for Caché, 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance anticipates Code Unknown in its interlocking character snippets, and, while both films’ formats owe much to Short Cuts, Haneke’s wintry vision lacks Altman’s sense of life overflowing beyond the frame. The immaculate technique could rival Bresson’s circa L’Argent, yet Haneke’s churlish grip over the characters’ already wretched lives is nothing short of inhuman, to say nothing of reductive—the tragedy of life, if life could be so labeled, lies in the many contradictory impulses (warmth and cruelty, humor and pain, beauty and horror) that give it a fullness that eludes the director’s relentless misanthropy. His alarm at the injustices of the world is matched only by his own emotional sadism—he’s already killed his characters long before he’s sent them to their senseless rendezvous.
The colors suffer in the lackluster transfer (witness the bleeding in the boy's nocturnal ride in the back of a truck over the opening credits), though the 1.85:1 widescreen retains the film's spatial exactness and implacable clarity of line. Sound is clear, if not exactly crystalline.
Haneke's interview is perhaps the most personal I've yet seen from the director, shedding light on his philosophies, spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof), working habits, and definitions of art. Not surprisingly, he presumptuously places himself as the alternative to evil, evil "mainstream" cinema; less predictably, he discusses how his films reflect the richness of life, which, considering his films, may suggest he has some kind of sense of humor after all. If not, I'll just settle for Haneke admitting that using the term "glacification" was indeed pretty stupid.
Fans of the director's austerity will not want to miss the last entry in his feel-bad trilogy. Others may just want to skip straight to the Prozac.