The Seventh Continent’s static presentation of schoolgirls successively leapfrogging a pommel horse sums up the cinema of Michael Haneke: cold, structurally rigorous, and repetitive. Proving that his work’s formal and thematic lynchpins existed from his career’s outset, the Austrian director’s debut film concerns the inspired-by-real-events tale of a bourgeois family – husband Georg (Dieter Berner), wife Anna (Birgit Doll), and daughter Eva (Leni Tanzer) – who responded to the dreary monotony of their middle class life by going haywire. I won’t spill exact details about the third-act’s “twist,” but in classic Haneke fashion, early depictions of day-to-day drudgery (going to work, putting away groceries, family breakfasts) contain a portentous vibe that naturally culminates in the other shoe violently dropping. Incongruous pop songs set against mundane dinner and driving sequences meld with news reports about Middle East violence and a televised concert by Meatloaf to form a critique of contemporary media as vacuous and/or toxic, and of modern life as alienating and empty. Georg and Anna’s rebellion against their hollow, materialistic existence – an attempt to attain the “peace” seemingly conveyed by their local car wash’s Australia tourism advertisement (irony alert!) – is given a chilling banality by Haneke’s exacting mise-en-scène, which often cuts off characters’ heads as a means of visualizing their loneliness and isolation. Yet his harsh, meticulous artistry is employed in the service of a didactic critique that merely confirms – through its narrow portrait of life as unrelentingly bleak – its own gloomy cynicism, nevermore so than during the excessively protracted, sympathy-free finale that makes one feel as if the director is secretly enjoying his tableau of horrific disintegration.