Seventh Continent, The

“The Seventh Continent” is the first theatrical film written and directed by Michael Haneke, the gifted German-born, Austrian-based auteur whose work is still little known in the U.S.

This acute chronicle of a family degenerating into self-destruction is the first instalment of a trilogy described by Haneke as “exploration of my country's aggressive emotional glaciation.” The other two panels are “Benny's Video” and “71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance,” which received their world premieres at the Cannes Film Festival.

Offering a chokcingly chilly and socially significant portrait, all three films center on the intersection between the mass media, personal and social alienation, and uncontrollable violence.

Based on a true story, Seventh Continent is a horror film, a sobering depiction of events that caused a collective suicide. Two parents, George (Dieter Berner), an engineer and his sardonic wife Anna (Birgit Doll) are bringing up their young, troubled daughter Eva (Leni Tanzer). Unable to empathize with Anna's compulsion for lying, and disinterested in each other's emotional well-being, the couple turns their pedestrian way of life into a vortex of malaise.

Feeling her parents' withdrawal from the world, Eva claims she's gone blind, which serves as a catalyst for a descent into self-annihilation as the family sets about destroying their home and each another.

The gloomy narrative is sustained by the director's bleak, ironic view of postmodern urban life. He draws a contrast between a recurring ad for an Austrian vacation, which signifies potential happiness, and the family's mealncholy, which escalates into sheer barbarism. Strong stuff indeed, particularly the last reel.

The visual strategy is harsh yet restrained and extremely precise. “Seventh Continent,” which unfolds as a succession of splendidly composed family tableaux, is a chilling cationary morality tale about the dangers of living a life devoid of meaning and feeling. In his thematic concerns, Haneke takes Antonioni's 1960s existential modernistic films (“L' Avventura,” “La Notte”) one step further into postmodernist cinema at its most potent.


Running time: 104 minutes.

Produced by Veit Heiduschka.
Directed and written by Michael Haneke.
Cinematography: Anton Peschke.