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Benny's Video (1992)

Deep frozen mid-teen Benny (Arno Frisch), son of a disinterested bourgeois couple, sits in his darkened high-tech bedroom amid a maze of expensive video equipment, consuming images of violence: either a home-made film shot at a weekend visit to a farm in which a pig is slaughtered with a bolt-gun, or an endless succession of trash horror films. Gore movie anoraks will be delighted to note that the only people low enough to license splattery clips to a film dedicated to showing them up as morally bankrupt sleazes are Troma, who generously let Benny watch The Toxic Avenger over and over.

One day while the parents are out, Benny invites back a glum girl he has met loitering outside the video rental place and, for no real reason, ends up killing her with the pig-slaughtering gun, taping the whole thing. The only after-effect of the crime for Benny is that he feels an urge to get a skinhead haircut, which seems to disturb Mum and Dad (Ulrich Mühe) more that the discovery that their precious is a killer. Reasonably, Dad decides to tidy up so his career won't be blighted by headlines, while Mum (Angela Winkler) takes the kid on a long holiday. When things are back to normal, Benny pulls the whole house down.

The nasty little tale is convincingly depressing: typical of Benny's lifestyle is that he keeps the blinds drawn but has a remote camera which gives him an onscreen view of the boring road outside the flat. Executed with a Teutonic lack of humour, this tries to grapple with the issues of numbness to violence and the existential anomie of a life observed rather than lived, but has not a tenth of the charge of Henry or Man Bites Dog. It has powerful moments like the murder (seen on a monitor and horribly overheard) and the infuriatingly practical family conversations have a strange horror, but lengthy stretches, like the Eritrean holiday that eats up most of the last half hour, simply fail to make a point.

It criticises Europeans for their addiction to McDonald's and Donald Duck, but misses the obvious fact that the attraction many feel for American culture is for its energy. This Austrian art movie that can't even work up much real indignation over the atrocities it would like to condemn. Directed by Michael Haneke.
KIM NEWMAN

First Published In: NME (issue unknown)


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