“71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance” (1994): Is Michael Haneke Anti-Narrative?

Poster for the 1994 Michael Haneke film 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance

Director: Michael Haneke.
Writers: Michael Haneke
Stars: Gabriel Cosmin Urdes, Lukas Miko, Otto Grünmandl, Anne Bennent, Udo Samel
Year Released: 1989
Runtime: 96 minutes.
Country: Austria, Germany
Aspect: 1.66:1

One of the themes repeated in Michael Haneke’s 2005 interview with Serge Toubiana about his “glaciation trilogy” — of which 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994) is the conclusion — is that Haneke’s films resist explaining. That his films are anti-narrative. That he presents things that happen but he doesn’t want to try to narrate. In part out of anxiety over narrative? That efforts to totalization are misguided? That all accounts are always partial?

Still from the 1994 Michael Haneke film "71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance" in which the father has a testy phone call with his daughter, the bank teller
Father calls his daughter, but he is unhappy and not about to be appeased

Why Anti-Narrative is Praiseworthy

To some great degree I want to promote and champion this gesture and intention. Drawing a path from here to there always is an effort of making sense, of being done with. I think this is why I’m fascinated by detective stories in which leads are pursued and realized as dead ends. This is one of the features of the television show Law and Order (1990-2010). The 2007 David Fincher film Zodiac is very explicitly about that problem.

Why Anti-Narrative is Self-Deluding

But I also think that there is something disingenuous, even willfully stupid about this.

To begin with, one is creating a film, and the temporal structure of the film does not permit a mere collection of 71 fragments.

Second human cognition is goal oriented. On the deepest level human knowing begins in confusion but seeks disclosure. That feature of human cognition may be an effect of the temporal dimension of lived experience, or vice versa. The point here is immaterial.

They may be 71 fragments, but they are equally a chronology.

By this what I mean is that chronology is necessarily narrative structured. And I think it would be unkind to intimate that Haneke is not cognizant of this. On some level.

Short Interlude

I recall the youthful realization* when I grasped that a judicial judgment was separate from the crime and the criminal and the victim. That being “found” guilty didn’t necessarily mean that the crime had been solved. I appreciated the finality of that judgment and the limits of the judgment’s comprehension of an event. That seems like a really good way to put it. 

* I once created a list on my wall of things that I had come to “know.” In high school. The first one was some kind of Heraclitean insight about change.

Aristotle On Chance

No matter how random are the conditions that lead to the intersection of several lines of causality, they are still a series of conditions.

Still from the 1994 Michael Haneke film "71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance" in which the young man practices table tenns
Fate intercedes with this tennis player

Did 71 Fragments Succeed Where Benny’s Video Fails?

Were one to compare Benny’s Video (1992) — the second film in the glaciation trilogy — and 71 Fragments, she might conclude the latter succeeds in separating the event from its antecedents, whereas the former did not.

Why does Benny’s Video fail? Because one ineluctable conclusion is that this is a story of parental neglect. A set of parents are confronted by a catastrophe and manage to outdo it. In fact, I sort of think that in part that is what the story is about. 

71 Fragments is, in one respect, the story of an incredibly anxious young man, who purchases a gun — perhaps, without any real purpose — and the gun finds its purpose nonetheless.

But then one asks why he purchases the gun? And the conditions exacerbating his frustration are kindling to his flame.

Why this? Because this. Because that.

Still from the 1994 Michael Haneke film "71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance" in which a beleaguered couple try to eat peacefully
A beleaguered couple attempt to have a nice meal

Repetition, Watching, Rewatching

One moment of genius in 71 Fragments is the repetition of news segments. In at least three different fragments (scenes?), a series of segments from a nightly news (TV) journal report global current events

Yet in two of the fragments, the same segments are shown. To be clear, the same segment is shown as was shown in a preceding fragment (I’m uncertain if all of that segment was the same, but at least the parts about the Bosnian War and Michael Jackson’s molestation accusations were).

In a separate interview about Funny Games (1997), Haneke touches on many of the points about this film already familiar to me. Perhaps the most salient was the gesture to make sure the audience knew he was saying: you’re a part of this, you bear responsibility.

The novel point was about remaking Funny Games (2007) [I haven’t actually seen this film]. He complained that when he remade the film no one asked why. Shot for shot remake.

Aptly, watching those films, I keep thinking about re-watching these films. Until recently, I’d never wanted to see Funny Games again. This is a paradox.

Why twice? Why thrice?

Still from the 1994 Michael Haneke film "71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance" in which the boy is turned away at the bank
Prepare for exasperation

Why is it called the Glaciation Trilogy?

Apparently Haneke used the term “glaciation” to describe it and afterwards wished he had not. I have to agree. Arno Frisch in Benny’s Video, yes, totally glaciated. The father in The Seventh Continent. Perhaps the armored car delivery man in 71 Fragments? But that’s about it.