Benny’s Video is an Austrian film from the early nineties that seeks to demonstrate the dehumanising effect that violence in the media can have on society as a whole. Michael Haneke’s fictional universe is a universe where casual violence just happens, without cause or reward – there’s almost always a consequence but it’s rarely shown in any detail, making it an ambiguous moral wasteland where nobody is ever very happy or engaged with their surroundings, and most people feel the need to commit hideous acts of violence towards each other to just feel anything at all.
With this cheery set-up in mind, Benny’s Video presents us with Benny (Arno Frisch, later of Funny Games), a movie-obsessed teenager from a well-to-do family who provide him with his every whim and desire, but he remains unhappy. He alleviates his malaise with his video camera, with which he seeks to record his life and the things around him to try and make sense of it all. The film begins with a graphic and most probably real scene of a pig being slaughtered on the farm that Benny’s parents Georg and Anna (Ulrich Mühe, later of The Lives of Others, and Angela Winkler respectively) rent. Benny seems to film the slaughter as a way of capturing for posterity, and escaping from, the horror that the event represents, as a way of separating himself from it by pretending that it’s a movie trick using ketchup and plastic.
Benny’s parents go away and he meets a girl at the video shop, whom he invites back to his room to show her his collection of video tapes. Later on, something happens, and the rest of the film shows the aftermath of what went on between Benny and the girl. Without wanting to give too much of the story away, Georg and Anna are shown to be just as dehumanised as Benny in dealing with the situation that they are thrown into, and finish what needs to be done calmly and without much effort. This is the repressed world that Benny was brought into, so can he really be blamed for turning out how he has?
Benny’s Video isn’t as important as Funny Games, or as cinematic as The White Ribbon, but it is still an obvious stepping stone for Haneke to take on the journey towards his later films. It’s a fun watch and it’s a good early example of a director whose style was so individual, authentic, and unmistakeably his own, even then.