Touching the fragile issues of moving, living, surviving and dying, yesterday I saw the first directorial debut of legendary Austrian Director Michael Haneke’s “The Seventh Continent”. The Seventh Continent, also known as a pure existentialist tale in cinema, released in 1989 is an Austrian Drama film inspired by a true story of an Austrian middle-class family that committed suicide.
Haneke is often associated with cinema’s great modernists, with the filmmaker like Bresson and Antonioni. Haneke’s films document the failures of modern society on a variety of levels.
The Seventh Continent is highly disturbing film made with the peculiar style full of close-ups where instead of characters’ faces, we see their hands, movements, and actions, we listened to their view of the breakfast cereals, shoes, and shopping. It should be boring but is instead gripping, a quiet build-up to the tragedy to come.
This film is about a dull middle-class family in Linz, Austria that opts for collective suicide rather than continues to “live” within the constricting, anti-humane monotony of everyday bourgeois society. The Story is shown in a series of short scenes going about their daily life over several years. The husband is an engineer, the mother an optician who co-owns the business with her brother. They have a bright, a subdued little girl.
In the opening half an hour, Haneke avoids the direct involvement of Viewer and character to make it more cathartic. But after this anthropological detachment, we get a clear view of their faces and are then disturbing hints that all is not well. The wife begins to cry as they are driving through a car wash – a family ritual – and the little daughter frighten a teacher at school by pretending to be blind.
Finally, it becomes clear that the family is coming to a terrifying decision about the dullness and futility of their lives, which is finally anatomised in the most spectacular way. Haneke allows us to suspect, little by little, what’s coming and the experience is genuinely terrifying: and it is also deeply troubling to retrace the film once it is over, trying to pinpoint what was really happening in the adults’ heads, and when.
Haneke is a master of absurd, dull and this kind of drama where he is more concerned towards the process than the result. I don’t think there is any greater cinematic interpreter of alienation exists in the world today than Haneke.
Depicting monotonous actions like counting of money at a supermarket, the distractions of television, the meaninglessness of work, the film reflects the powerlessness and secludedness of people in modern society. Haneke chronicles a family enslaved to the structures they have created, operating in a morass of emotional vacuity.
The Seventh Continent is a tragic announcement of the demise of a civilization.
- Gursimran Datla