Mr. Miserabilism

Pub date June 11, 2008
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

Some of Michael Haneke’s early made-for-TV movies are showcased in the aptly titled mini-retrospective "Bitter Pills" at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. In them, Haneke’s now-characteristic austerity — long static takes, cryptic narrative omissions — is yet undeveloped. But his nihilistic take on society is already present.

The four-hour 1979 Austrian miniseries Lemmings maps out disillusions among the embittered, hypocritical generation of Austrians who "lost" World War II and their suffocated teen offspring. Parent-child relations are toxic. Bonds between peers are no less fucked. Encompassing suicide, infidelity, auto-abortion, vandalism, and joyless full-frontal nudity, Lemmings‘ tragic first part, set in the 1950s, is self-contained. The second part, which takes place years later, finds new ways to rain consequence on its cheerless protagonists and their children.

Black-and-white and Fassbinderesque, 1984’s Fraulein coughs up another fine mess. A German soldier returned from a lengthy Russian POW camp internment finds his family members have long since embarked on brave new paths which range from sell-out capitalism to Elvis-imitative juvenile delinquency. The overall picture is surprisingly quasi-lurid. Today’s Haneke would never allow his miserablism to be diluted by such relative zest.

Adapted from a novel by Joseph Roth, 1993’s The Rebellion is quite different. Mixing archival footage with new material in color and faux-distressed sepia, it chronicles the downward spiral of a one-legged WWI veteran (Branko Samarovski). The whole thing is a classic Teutonic tale of a naive hero efficiently destroyed by the system. Then, as now, Haneke had a gift for making even the bitterest life-lesson pills curiously, even compulsively edible.


Thurs/12 through June 19, $6–$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787