Hate Subtitles? 

Funny Games—Now for the Illiterate!

Years ago I reviewed Funny Games, an Austrian thriller written and directed by Michael Haneke. One of the most psychologically brutal films I've ever encountered, it presents an unflinchingly cruel challenge to the viewer to examine, and perhaps justify, the entertainment value of violence. I adore it.

As perhaps indicated by the English title Haneke gave to the original film—which is in German—his comments on cinema's preoccupation with torture (both physical and psychological) are arguably most applicable to American culture. Thus, he brings us Funny Games yet again, repackaged as an exact duplicate of the original film, with two key modifications made to specially appeal to American audiences: Naomi Watts, and the absence of subtitles.

With star power (Tim Roth also stars, as Watts' husband) and Americans' native tongue on board, little else has been done to alter the original vision. (The plot's far more effective if the audience doesn't know what to expect going in, so forget a tidy synopsis.) The re-creation is painstakingly accurate: Sets, costumes, gestures, delivery—almost everything is a shot-by-shot duplication. Even the American actors—with the exception of a markedly prettier Watts, and one of the two villains—closely resemble their German predecessors.

It speaks volumes about the conviction with which he completed the original masterpiece that Haneke felt no further alteration was needed (if he'd asked, I would have suggested he lose the heavy-handed moments in which the fourth wall is broken and characters speak directly to the audience), but if you're already a fan of the original, there's little to be offered by way of the latest rendition; the translation mirrors the original English subtitles faithfully. To extract additional benefit requires a near-molecular breakdown: Nuances of individual lines are perhaps minutely clearer to the English speaker, a subtle comedic layer is more comfortably registered, vaguely bizarre moments are harder to question as possible cultural differences of manner.

Likewise, there's little reason to recommend the newer version over the older version—and Haneke's faithfulness would lend credence to the contention that the original ain't broke in the first place. But if you're averse to subtitles, you'll prefer this version, and it's also more likely to be pointed at you, anyhow.

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Funny Games
Rated R · 108 min.
Official Site: wip.warnerbros.com/funnygames
Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Producer: Naomi Watts
Cast: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart, Boyd Gaines, Siobhan Fallon, Linda Moran, Robert LuPone and Arno Frisch

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