THE SEVENTH CONTINENT
Michael Haneke, 1989
Have you ever felt drowned in your routine? So drowned that you want to off yourself like a goldfish jumping out of an aquarium?
The Schobers are a well-off Austrian family who plans to migrate to Australia, the seventh continent. But why the f*ck would they leave behind a good life just to risk it all in a place they’ve never been to before? Michael Haneke aims to answer that question — and the ones in this essay’s first paragraph — in his existential feature film debut, The Seventh Continent.
The Seventh Continent shows the life and routine of a middle-class family. The film is divided into three chapters: 1987, 1988, and 1989.
Just like Caché and Funny Games, The Seventh Continent has a small family as its main characters: mother, father, and a child. In this film, daddy Georg (Dieter Berner) is an engineer of some sort, mommy Anna (Birgit Doll) is an optometrist, and baby Eva (Leni Tanzer) is an astute girl.
First sequence of the film has the Schobers inside their car, passively sitting while their car takes a bath. From this very scene, Haneke immediately succeeds in immersing the audience and somehow giving them a glimpse of the family’s emotion, if not their state of mind.
Then follows a series of close-ups, not of the characters’ face but of mundane everyday stuff: from the alarm clock to the door knob… up to the cash register.
You might have to watch The Seventh Continent again right after it’s done. It’s one of those films that make you ask, “Okay. What the f*ck did I just watch?” It can leave you incredibly pissed and dumbfounded if you haven’t seen any of Haneke’s film yet.
What we have here is a pissed off movie. Pissed off and bitter at life and its painful routine. Through the rampant close-ups of everyday stuff, Haneke aims to accentuate the pointlessness of routine existence. At the same time, it shows us the tempting beauty of the beyond, how the freedom the other side offers seems irresistible.
The auteur’s trademark static shots emanate a creepy mood of passivity. The humdrum existence. The what-the-f*ck fact of life.
With the help of film editor Marie Homolkova, Haneke achieves that “to see or not to see” question. One sequence directly switches from Eva’s “blindness” to the blinding close-up of an eye, Anna’s customer having her eyes checked. Haneke puts his audience on the horns of a dilemma: do you still want to see more of this life’s apathetic and pretentious routine?
My fave moment — and probably the most remarkable moment — from the film is the money flushing scene. It is simple yet masterfully shot. With the flushing noise being the only sound present, one can feel the stillness of the moment, the frustration of seeing lots of money being reduced to sewer contents. That particular scene is a blatant “f*ck you” to the materialistic notion of “a good life.”
The performances are generally neat. Miss Doll looks a bit like Juliette Binoche in Caché, she impressively conveys the suppressed frustration of Anna. (Her second car wash scene is one of the film’s WTF moments.) Berner is also good as the patriarch, his haunting eyes contribute to the film’s creepy tone. Miss Tanzer is simply compelling as the peculiar and precocious daughter.
If you love life and is one of those people who spout GV online and beyond, you might wanna check out The Seventh Continent. Hey. You said you love life, right? Love means accepting — not just tolerating — one’s flaws. That’s what Haneke explores in this film: the perpetual flaws of life.
Conversely if you’re depressed, I don’t think it’s a good idea to watch this film. It has the immense power to make one take the same exit path the Schobers took.
We do the best we can to not let life pass us by, when we are indeed the ones who are passing by in life. We are nothing but mere passersby in this thing called life. The Schobers saw that, they realized how futile all their struggles are. Struggles and the success that might come after it are for mere egotistic and aesthetic purposes only, that’s the vibe I got from Haneke’s film.
A defeatist approach towards existentialism? Nein. More like a triumphantly in-your-face discussion of life. Although quite Bergmanesque at times, The Seventh Continent is an unflinching and original look at existentialism.
In a nutshell, this brilliant film is a simple rebellion against the complexity of life and its routines.
Trailer for The Seventh Continent: