71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance

The aptly, ironically titled “71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance” is the third film in avant-garde director Michael Haneke's trilogy that began with “The Seventh Continent” and continued with “Benny's Video,” both of which shown at Cannes Film Festival. Like the first two films, the plot (if one can describe it as such) of this one revolves around an act of gratuitous violence that, on the surface, defies logical explanation. Intellectually demanding and basically non-commercial film should be embraced in the festival and art-house circuits by film students and viewers interested in post-modern, deconstructionist cinema.

Haneke is a cerebral filmmaker who believes that cinema's most important function is to disturb and disorient its viewers, shake them out of their habitually passive ways of perceiving reality. Premise of his new films is most intriguing: On the day before Christmas of l993, a 19-year-old student senselessly murdered several people and then committed suicide in his car.

Framed as a mystery, the story unfolds in five asymmetrical chapters, beginning on October 12 and culminating on the day of the murder. About a dozen disparate characters are introduced and then periodically revisited, always in a surprising–sort of chance–manner. One of the figures to link among the fragments is a homeless adolescent, a Rumanian exile who's wandering in Vienna's streets begging for money and shoplifting.

Haneke accepts the ubiquitous presence of the visual media in our daily lives, particularly the omnipresence of TV, video, and computers. Each chapter begins with TV's evening news, often with reportage about war-torn Sarajevo–then updates on the charges against Michael Jackson, while using the same footage over and over again. Philosophically bent director stresses the numbing effects of the media's repetition of images and sound bites on our consciousness, creating the illusion of informing the public.

The murder and suicide are used to demonstrate the futility of trying to apply common-sensical knowledge, or “scientific” psychology, in understanding reality's truly complex nature. In tune with Brechtian ideology, Haneke refuses to use common devices of narrative-fiction movies like linear plot and emotional involvement. The only conventional elements that Haneke's pic shares with dominant cinema is running time and list of credits at the beginning.

Production values in every department are aces, particularly Berger's crystal-clear lensing and Homolkova's sharply concise editing, both of which are meant to make viewers aware of the arbitrary and manipulative way in which events are pre-arranged and pre-digested for them to consume.

71 Fragments, like any other Haneke film, is informed by a democratic philosophy, encouraging every viewer to think and form his own opinion, but at the same time also tolerate alternative and divergent opinions, moral ambiguity and uncertainty.

The most accessible film in Haneke's trilogy, 71 Fragments offers more illuminating insights about the inherent contradictions and frustrations in our lives than most commercial films today. A cerebral entertainment, it is also one of the few films at the festival this year to provide Cannes its claim for showcasing experimental and cutting-edge cinema.

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