71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994)
May 27, 2024 4:27 PM - Subscribe

71 scenes revolving around a recent immigrant, a couple that has just adopted a daughter, a college student and a lonely old man.

71 scenes revolving around multiple Viennese residents who are by chance involved with a senseless gun slaughter on Christmas Eve.

Manohla Dargis: Briefly put, “71 Fragments” is, like other Haneke films, a moral and philosophical meditation on the banality of evil and our nominal complicity, inside the movie theater and out, in a world in which a television news report on Michael Jackson is squeezed between horrors from Bosnia and Somalia. For Mr. Haneke, the point seems less that evil is commonplace than that we don’t engage with it as thinking, actively moral beings. We slurp our soup while Sarajevo burns on the boob tube.

In “71 Fragments,” the former Yugoslavia smolders between snippets of jet-black film and scenes from everyday Viennese life. In one home, a woman and man struggle with their newborn; elsewhere, a childless couple struggle with a new foster daughter. An old man visits his daughter, a teller in a bank, only to be coolly rebuffed as if he were just another bothersome customer. A homeless Romanian boy eats garbage, then watches a woman play ball in a park with children and a dog that looks considerably better fed (and loved) than he does. For those who miss the point: a young man mechanically hits Ping-Pong balls spitting out of a machine, again and again, testing his will or maybe his sanity as well as the viewer’s patience.

Ashley Rincon: Haneke leaves no choice in his films but to bring about self-examination of the audience based on what they see on-screen. Just like time seems to fly when you have a dentist appointment after work, it seems to crawl when you have a party to attend at the same time. Time is, of course, moving at the same speed from one day to the next depending on our position; however, the pace feels very different. Haneke illustrates this by showing a young homeless boy who thrives on the daily interactions he has with a boy when he arrives home from school. The boy, who has a loving family, a school he attends, and chores he is responsible for could not comprehend the life of the boy with whom he exchanges smiles—the boy who spends a majority of his days mapping out where he can steal enough food so that he doesn’t starve. Despite their vast differences, their interactions mean little to one of them, and everything to the other.

The difference in that impact means that the perception of time between their meetings looks rather different for each boy. While the homeless boy feeds off of that one guaranteed social interaction a day, time seems to slow down in the hours preceding the exchange. For the other boy, waving or saying “hi” is simply something he does on his way into the house after school because it doesn’t mean as much to him, as time seems to fly by for him in between their visits. Haneke expertly weaves a tapestry of seemingly unrelated events, again begging for audience self-examination. The juxtaposition in the above example is a powerful one as well. The audience sees two boys, nearly the same age, who couldn’t lead two lives that were any more different from the other. The rosy well-fed boy that comes from a loving family—each day with different clothes on and a perpetual grin lighting up his face—is in stark contrast to the pale, thin, meek homeless boy who has no-one in his life to love him or care for him. Haneke is hitting a different nerve with these images, demanding us to think about the way we engage with the reality of an issue such as homeless youth, and whether or not our moral compass is ill-equipped in directing us in such matters. This shows Haneke’s return to a question he has considered throughout his entire career: “How can we live right in an unjust world?”

Adam Bingham: The short vignettes of their lives are also all observed with a dispassionate, often static camera that reflects the static, stationary lives of the characters. The camera almost always remains detached and objective, keeping the viewer at a figurative distance from the diegesis and inviting us not to identify with the protagonists (in the Hitchcock sense), but, rather, to analyse and reflect upon them and their actions. We are never encouraged to look down on the characters or condemn them, if we did we would be condemning ourselves. In this sense, Haneke’s film is a mirror; we are asked to sympathetically consider the plight of these characters, their flaws and shortcomings, so that they may illuminate our own.

Crucially, though, like other filmmakers who imposed formal and stylistic limitations on their work (most obviously Ozu Yasujiro, Hou Hsiao-hsien or Chantal Akerman’s early films), there remains the possibility of creative deviation from the strictures imposed generally on the film. Here – as in The Seventh Continent, in which point-of-view shots were almost exclusively reserved for the young girls of the family who commit suicide together – there is a distinctive overhead tracking shot that occurs twice in the film: at the very beginning when the young boy later identified as a runaway orphan first escapes to the city (wading through a river and looking out over and beyond a road); and then at the end of the film, when a similar shot follows a young army cadet who opens fire in a bank, leaves the scene of the crime, crosses the street outside, climbs inside his car and shoots himself. There is no obvious narrative connection between these two characters other than the fact that the woman who has adopted the runaway is in the bank when the shooting occurs. Beyond this, however, one can make the thematic link to the fact that the boy is escaping his old life at the beginning, while the cadet escapes his at the end. The boy escapes into the city and into capitalism (the van he stows away in is carrying washing machines), the cadet away from them in a manner that Haneke seems to suggest, particularly in light of The Seventh Continent and that film’s alienated family who escape “into” suicide, is the only true means of ridding oneself of the corruption of modern life.

posted by Carillon (2 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't know what to expect from this as Haneke seems to trend more towards horror. While this definitely has horrific elements, it was really thoughtful and slowly paced. I don't know if one can 'like' a movie like this, but I really appreciated it. It has a lot to chew on about the expulsion of violence from the imperial core out to the provinces, and how that coming home is shocking. But also that it shouldn't necessarily feel different, people are still suffering violence, we just don't have to care. Certainly it seems very forward looking in 2024 thinking about guns and gun violence as well.
posted by Carillon at 4:31 PM on May 27

I didn't know what to expect from this as Haneke seems to trend more towards horror.

I've seen everything he's ever made and it would never occur to me to say this. Perhaps Funny Games and maybe Benny's Video, but nothing else is remotely horror to my perspective.

I like 71 Fragments quite a bit (I met with Haneke about distributing it in North America way back when), though it's been a number of years since I've seen it.

It seems like a trial run for Code Unknown which I think is unquestionably a better picture.

If you appreciated 71 Fragments, you may also appreciate Markus Schleinzer's Michael. Schleinzer was Haneke's casting director for a while and his debut film has a similar vibe to Haneke's first three pictures. I told him this at the premier and he thankfully took it as a compliment.

There's also The Moor's Head, which I believe is the only thing Haneke ever wrote that someone else directed. I hate the ending but up until then it's fascinating. Very hard to find that one though.
posted by dobbs at 6:00 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]

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