I was joking around with some people from work yesterday about how every director's first feature film is always there best. (This was spawned by Jonathan Rosenbaum's assertion in the new Cinema Scope Magazine that his favorite Gus Van Sant film is a 12-minute short he made before his first feature.) With lower expectations and untamed minds at work, my bold statement has some merit, although it, of course, is not always true. And it's not quite true for this weeks DVD of the week, The Seventh Continent (1989), the first feature of Austrian director Michael Haneke. The Seventh Continent along with the more recent Cache (2005) are Haneke's masterpieces, and if forced to choose one I may take Cache, if only because it was at the 2005 Telluride Film Festival where I saw Cache, met Haneke, and changed my way of thinking from Film Production to Film Studies. Nevertheless, The Seventh Continent is, in many ways, just as assured and resonates with many of the themes that Haneke's oeuvre has dealt with.
This personal bit aside, The Seventh Continent is a bold and daring first film that immediately announced Haneke as a provocative force in the international film community. Although it was mostly unseen (at least in the States) until it was released on DVD a couple years ago, it stands out from the rest of Haneke's early work (and from the majority of any of his work, for that matter.) A strong and unrelentless portrait of urban postmodern isolation, the film is becoming more impactful and frightening with each passing year. Apparently based on true events, the last half of the film left me bewildered and stunned. Even for people unfamiliar with Haneke or even for those who have not been fans in the past, The Seventh Continent is a film to be reckoned with and without a doubt one of the best and most important films of the 1980s.
by James Hansen