71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance
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A meticulous depiction of the numbing and normalizing effects of television, Michael Haneke's 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994) "is the most intelligent and powerful study by cinema" (Maximilian Le Cain, Senses of Cinema) of the 20th century's quintessential medium. A "cool, cerebral and painstaking" (Time Out London) examination of several characters, including an Austrian university student who goes on a shooting spree, the third installment of Haneke's "glaciation trilogy" is a mosaic of 71 film tableaux - beautifully shot by cinematographer Christian Berger (Cache and The Piano Teacher). In 71 Fragments, clips of TV news segments on warfare in the former Yugoslavia alternate between stories of urban disconnection. And while continuing to approach filmmaking from an anti-psychological perspective, German-born Haneke assembles a unified work from snippets of narrative, such as Inge (Anne Bennet) and Paul Brunner (Udo Samel) struggling with a newly adopted daughter, and a homeless Romanian boy wandering the streets of Vienna. Moreover, and as expected from Haneke, 71 Fragments closes with an unforgettable cinematic punch, which also stands as a presage of his "later masterpieces by virtue of both its style and thematic core" (Adam Bingham, Senses of Cinema).
German-Austrian director Michael Haneke's experimental feature film, 71 Fragments: A Chronology of Chance, explores the bleak, disjointed lives of several people only to tie them together at the end, during a tragic, violent climax. Five-to-ten minute segments, spliced together, unravel fractured narratives from ten sets of people, ranging from a couple frustrated by their newly-adopted girl, to a daughter who, to spite her aging father, prevents him from spending time with his granddaughter, to a young runaway who survives German winters in subway stations, stealing and panhandling for food, cigarettes, and comic books. Between these narratives, real news footage reporting on Yugoslavian and Turkish wars, and the Michael Jackson molestation trial, makes the world within the film even larger and colder. Its as if Haneke made ten movies, chopped the films into short strips, and edited them back together like Frankenstein, opting for ambience instead of plot. Full of characters who are "sorry that they exist," 71 Fragments contains little of the actual violence that viewers sometimes loathe in Hanekes work. In an interview included in the extras, Haneke says of this third film in his "glaciation" trilogy, that 71 Fragments: A Chronology of Chance documents failed communication. That said, this film meditates on human isolation by distilling violence down into one chilling, final action, feeling more like a cry for help than a wish to separate further from humanity. Trinie Dalton
- New video interview with director Michael Haneke
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The movie opens with a title card that gives away the end of the movie. A college student named Max B. is, on December 23, 1993, going to go into a Viennese bank and shoot three people dead, then turn the gun on himself. From there we proceed to the threads of the story, beginning on October 12, 1993.
Basically, there are seven main characters. There is Max, the college student; Marian Radu, an ethnic Romanian boy from Bucharest, has come to Austria because he has heard "people are nice to children" there; Tomek, an elderly man, lives an isolated life even though his daughter also lives in Vienna; Inge and Paul Brunner are a childless couple in the process of adopting a daughter; and Hans and Maria are a married couple at wits end, due to the illness of their infant. Three of these will be dead at the end of the film. Two of them will be at the bank because they are habitually there. So, the "chance" of the title really only refers to one character, at least as regards the shootings.
The "71 Fragments" are isolated from each other by black-outs. About twenty of these segments prominently feature a television or a monitor. Several others feature them as audio elements, or have them playing out of focus in a portion of the screen. Most broadcasts are news programs, taken from real sources, and demonstrate how news stories are fashioned to show the viewer how to feel about world events. "Cool medium," indeed.
Haneke, in an interview found in the "special features," says that he strives to make his films in a way that shows "what is wrong in way that gives you a desire for the alternative." This amounts to almost a manifesto in his body of work, and accounts for the increasingly decentered and sometimes inscrutable quality of his films.
Here is a funny game Mr. Haneke plays with anyone, like me, who decides to count the blackouts. There are only sixty-eight of them. Sixty-eight blackouts, but still "71 Fragments." It is a little mystery a bit like the encounter at the end of CACHÉ, in which two people who aren't supposed to know each other have what appears to be a friendly and familiar conversation--one that is inaudible to us. Fade to black, The End.
Well, for those who care enough to count, I think the three missing fragments are as found as follows: two additional fragments are embedded in the very clever blackout #43, which begins with Radu telling his story on TV. The third missing fragment occurs at blackout #68, and concludes the film. As with everything Haneke does, this mystery will have different theories, but for what it's worth, there is mine.
In his director's filmed comments Michael Haneke explains why he presents the film in fragments. He says that in many violent films we tend to sympathize with the villain because he is presented as a complete and admirable character. He also explains that true art is beautiful not for what it shows but for what it does not show.
The three films are included in the Haneke seven film box set, which I strongly recommend.