There’s no escaping the walls of everyday life, especially if you’re forced to stay within the institutions that society created and no one intends to get out. Michael Haneke’s debut film, which won the Pardo di bronzo in Locarno in 1989, is almost entomological in its depiction of the cage alongside the animals/humans who inhabit it. And perhaps even more than the main family, what really matters in The Seventh Continent is the objects surrounding and gradually suffocating the characters. Then again, within a silence that sticks to characters who can’t communicate with each other it’s inevitable that the surrounding sounds, monotonous and jarring, take over.
As is frequently the case in his films, the Austrian director focuses on the institution of family and sabotages it from the outside, shaking its foundations. And so, the three who wish to leave for Australia end up confined within the domestic walls, naively thinking it was their choice. And that conflict will become a constant in Haneke’s oeuvre: the illusion of finding meaning and freedom within an overarching structure that actually controls and shackles the individual. Except in this case, before reaching the austere and cruel style of later works like Funny Games or The Piano Teacher, Haneke toys with more daring visual choices, particularly when it comes to editing. And so, while the opening sequence focuses on the seemingly harmless details of a car inside a car wash, the parting shots form a delirious sequence of objects, faces and situations reflecting the motionless chaos of our present.