Understanding Michael Haneke: 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994)

Released in 1994, 71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance was meant to cap the so-called Glaciation Trilogy, which also includes Haneke’s two preceding efforts, The Seventh Continent and Benny’s Video. In some ways, this film seems symmetrical to both of them. It is inspired by a true story of a student who – out of nowhere – walked into a Viennese bank and opened fire killing a bunch of by-standers before blowing his own brains out, which tethers the film thematically to The Seventh Continent in particular. In addition, the entirety of its fragmented narrative is also interspersed with various bits of archival news footage mostly covering the Balkan War in graphic detail, which is consistent with the crucial role TV screens played in his other movies. However, this film did not resonate with me the way these other films did. 

That may be because in contrast to the two previous films, 71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance comes across as a work of a detached cynic as opposed to a frustrated humanist, the logical consequence of which is that the film doesn’t add up to much. It is just an experiment in upsetting the viewer. Being a scientist myself I find it redundant and perhaps even unethical to design and conduct an experiment on live subjects for no other apparent reason than to hurt those subjects. This is tantamount to cruelty. However, I am more than willing to extend an olive branch on the off-chance the nuance lies in the subterfuge of trying to convince me this experiment is meant to be seen as a joke. Still, this line of logic smells profoundly of apologist post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc mental gymnastics one would likely engage in to rationalize their own attachment to something profoundly indefensible.

Furthermore, this highly formal collage of short vignettes in which Haneke focuses his gaze on a seemingly homogeneous atmosphere of menace and chaotic indifference permeating the lives of contemporary inhabitants of Vienna quickly betrays its manufactured nature. From the bank worker who slaps his wife after she sneers at his confession of love to a couple rejecting an orphan, to a Romanian beggar getting picked up the police, a man aggressively chastising his adult daughter for not wanting to spend time with him and more, these vignettes are meant to build a bleak collage of societal degradation, as though it was the only way to rationalize the seemingly random act of violence around which the film is revolving. At this point I am fairly confident that Haneke lost control over the tonal intensity and thematic profundity of what he was trying to convey, thus crossing the line between satire and farce. As a result, almost everything about this story has a false note somewhere in the background and as such the film teeters on the verge of unpalatability and might convince some viewers Haneke is not a cruel teacher I honestly think he is, but rather a desensitized cynic.

All in all, 71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance is definitely the weakest of the entire Glaciation Trilogy thanks to Haneke’s lack of tonal restraint, which drowns the entire movie in unnecessary preachiness. Though, it is hard to expect the filmmaker to stay in touch with the subject matter, however compelling it may be, if he decides to operate from atop a high horse, which is a position he seemingly retained in many of his future productions, such as Code Unknown (it also happens to be a structural and thematic sibling to this movie) and his highly acclaimed The White Ribbon as well.

Published originally on Letterboxd.

One thought on “Understanding Michael Haneke: 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994)

  1. Pingback: Understanding Michael Haneke: Code Unknown (2000) | Flasz On Film

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