71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls)

Director: Michael Haneke
Screenplay: Michael Haneke
Stars: Gabriel Cosmin Urdes (Romanian boy), Lukas Miko (Max, the student), Otto Grümandl (Tomek, the old man), Anne Bennent (Inge Brunner), Udo Samel (Paul Brunner), Branko Samarovski (Hans), Claudia Martini (Maria), Georg Friedrich (Bernie, the soldier), Alexander Pschill (Hanno), Klaus Händl (Gerhard), Corina Eder (Anni), Dorotheee Hartinger (Kristina)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1994
Country: Austria
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance Criterion Collection Blu-ray
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance

After making two disquieting features about deeply troubled nuclear families, writer/director Michael Haneke opened his narrative parameters with 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls), whose title essentially tells us exactly what it is about. Composed of (I assume) seventy-one scenes involving a dozen major character in several parallel plotlines, all of whom are moving inexorably toward a violent moment that has been foreshadowed in the film’s opening moments in which we read about a bank shooting that left three people and the shooter dead. Like Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975) or Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores perros (2000), 71 Fragments draws its power not from any one of the narratives, but the manner in which they intersect, creating a mosaic of life in which different aspects of each story echo and play off each other while we watch and dread the inevitable.

Beginning with television news footage from around the world, virtually all of which involves atrocities and wars in Bosnia, Somalia, and Ireland, accidents, political breakdown, and Michael Jackson’s sexual abuse scandal, 71 Fragments alternates among a half dozen different narratives unfolding over several weeks in Vienna, starting with a Romanian boy (Gabriel Cosmin Urdes) illegally crossing the border into Austria, where he lives on the street, begging, stealing, and evading the police. There is also a frustrated college student named Max (Lukas Miko) and an elderly pensioner named Tomek (Otto Grümandl) who goes to the bank to withdraw money just so he can see his adult daughter, Kristina (Dorotheee Hartinger), who works there. Paul and Inge Brunner (Udo Samel and Anne Bennet) are a couple attempting to adopt a foster girl named Anni (Corinas Eder), who has been so emotionally damaged that she is incapable of anything resembling normal human interaction. And then there is Hans (Branko Samarovski) and Maria (Claudia Martini), who have settled into a miserable middle-age routine of noncommunication, living together but never really being together.

The use of the term “fragment” in the title is crucial to Haneke’s project, not just in this film, but in many of his other works, especially his previous two films, The Seventh Continent (1989) and Benny’s Video (1992). Both of those films present eventually horrific scenarios with virtually no explanation. We are able to glean some understanding from bits and pieces of the films, but there are no grand moments of explanation or revelation, which is central to Haneke’s view of modern life. We can never truly know anyone or anything, he seems to be saying, only the fragments we are given that we can try to piece together to create a comprehensive whole, but never will. Haneke gives us a fairly blunt visualization in the form of a game where a paper cross is cut into various trapezoidal shapes and people have 60 seconds to put it back together—which no one ever can. The same goes for the film: You can try to understand how and why the violence occurs, but there is always something that doesn’t quite fit, remains ambiguous, or resists explanation. That certainly makes for a frustrating experience, but that frustration is central to Haneke’s project because it forces you to confront the horrors of the inexplicable.

71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance Criterion Collection Blu-ray
Michael Haneke : Trilogy Criterion Collection Blu-ray Set71 Fragments of a Chronicle of Chance is available as part of Criterion’s three-disc set “Michael Haneke : Trilogy,” which also includes The Seventh Continent and Benny’s Video.
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 (all three films)
  • German Linear PCM 1.0 monaural (all three films)
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Video interview with actor Arno Frisch
  • Video interview with film historian Alexander Horwath
  • Three video interviews from 2005 with writer/director Michael Haneke
  • Michael H.—Profession: Director (2013) documentary
  • Deleted scenes from Benny’s Video
  • Trailers
  • Essay by novelist John Wray
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateDecember 5, 2022

    According to the liner notes, writer/director Michael Haneke supervised the transfer of all three films in this three disc-set. The Seventh Continent was transferred from a 35mm interpositive, while Benny’s Video and 71 Fragments of a Chronicle of Chance were transferred from the original 35mm camera negatives. All three films were restored and color graded under Haneke’s supervision. Presented in their original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, they all look very good and true to their celluloid origins, with each being given its own disc to maximize the bitrate. The images are clean and well detailed, with a pleasing level of film grain that creates a slight softness. Black levels and shadow detail are especially important to The Seventh Continent and Benny’s Video, both of which have extensive sequences that take place in dark interiors. There is little in the way of age or wear on any of the films, and colors look strong and natural. The original monaural soundtracks for all three films were mastered from the 35mm magnetic tracks and restored. Haneke doesn’t employ any non-diegetic music in these films, but sound is essential to their effectiveness. Ambient noises, various sound effects, and heavy silences are all major components of the films’ various soundscapes, and these Blu-rays present them very well.

    As for the supplements, Criterion has packed in quite a bit. The biggest inclusion is Yves Montmayeur’s excellent feature-length documentary Michael H.—Profession: Director (2013), which covers the entirety of Haneke’s career up to Amour (2011), although it does so in reverse chronological order (conspicuously omitting the 2007 English-language remake of Funny Games), which helps to illustrate how established his artistic sensibility was from the very beginning. Along the way we get extensive (and unvarnished) interviews with Haneke and actors with whom he has worked, including Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Riva (who talks of how much she wanted to quit in the middle of shooting Amour), Béatrice Dalle, and Jean-Louis Trintignant. It is a fascinating film in its own right that offers a great deal of insight into Haneke’s career and what it like to work with him (Montmayeur has also made documentaries about the history of yakuza films and Japanese erotica, filmmakers Guy Maddin and Takeshi Kitano, and cinematographer Christopher Doyle, none of which I have seen). Each disc in the set includes a video interview with Haneke from 2005 that was conducted by Cinémathèque Française director Serge Toubiana (while many critics and viewers may dislike Haneke’s films and the portrait they present of humanity, one cannot argue about how well he is able to articulate his perspective and why he makes his films the way he does). Each interviews runs close to 20 minutes. We also get a 30-minute interview from 2018 with film historian Alexander Horwath that focuses on Haneke’s early career. Horwath, who is currently director of the Österreichisches Filmmuseum in Vienna, was one of the first critics to recognize Haneke’s artistry and wrote a book about The Seventh Continent and his early television films. Also from 2018 is a 25-minute interview with actor Arno Frisch, who played the lead role in Benny’s Video and also had a major role in Funny Games (1997). There is also a 15-minute featurette in which Haneke and Toubiana discuss a few deleted scenes from Benny’s Video and theatrical trailers for all three films. The insert booklet includes a new essay by novelist John Wray (Gone to the Wolves).

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    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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