Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Brian DePalma’s Passion, based on the French thriller Love Crime, has us recalling other American remakes of foreign-language movies.
Funny Games (2007)
Michael Haneke’s 1997 film Funny Games is the rare cinematic provocation that genuinely provokes. Because it was shot in German with a cast of relative unknowns, however, it failed to make much of a splash upon its very limited U.S. release—and that apparently frustrated Haneke, who had wanted to challenge an American audience most of all. A decade later, therefore, he decided to make it again, but in English this time, and with movie stars Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt. And rather than use the opportunity to reconceive the material, he just duplicated the original film shot-for-shot, on sets constructed from the same blueprints as the earlier sets. Few people went to see this version, either, but at least Haneke could no longer claim that an aversion to subtitles was to blame for the lack of interest.
Because the two films are so identical, which one you see doesn’t much matter. Both have the same disturbing effect, which is to make viewers question exactly what it is they seek from violent entertainment. (People who don’t like that question tend to really despise Funny Games, so be forewarned. Even if you’re open to it, it’s a tough film to stomach.) Watts and Roth, as a married couple whose vacation home is invaded for no reason (save cinematic sadism) by two polite young men in tennis whites, do excellent work in the roles originated by Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Mühe, and if Pitt can’t match the cold menace of Arno Frisch, he’s balanced by Brady Corbet’s superior performance as the dweebier of the two killers. Fans of the ’97 film complained that the U.S. remake is redundant, which is true, but there’s a certain fascination in seeing familiar faces plugged into an existing framework, with virtually no other changes having been made. Watching the two back to back would be illuminating, if also hideously grueling.