Thursday, April 08, 2010
Maestro: Michael Haneke
Known For: difficult movies about human treacherousness and the breakdown of society.
Influences: Imagine the love-child of Robert Bresson and Franz Kafka. Then again, maybe don’t.
Masterpieces: The White Ribbon and Caché
Disasters: Not sure why Funny Games worked reasonably well in Europe but was a real misfire in it's American version. But it was.
Better than you remember: Let’s put it this way. If you remember a Haneke film as being bad because it was unpleasant, then it was probably better than you remember.
Awards: Nothing from the establishment, expectedly. But they love him in Europe, giving him the Palme d’Or for The White Ribbon and Best Director for Caché and the same for both films at the European Film Awards.
Box Office: Over 3 million dollars for Caché.
Favorite Actor: German actress Susanne Lothar has appeared in four films: The Piano Teacher, The White Ribbon, The Castle, and Funny Games, beating out better known stars such as Juliette Binoche or Isabelle Huppert (2 each)
The word provocateur. Someone who provokes. Michael Haneke fits the definition to be sure. Sadly, all too often he gets grouped in with a large collective of European filmmakers whose provocation is their calling card. Director's like Lars von Trier, Gaspar Noe, Catherine Breillat and more who make films that are routinely unbearable (in a good way). And while it's unfortunate that all of them are grouped so generically (as many of them are great), I feel that Haneke perhaps deserves it the least. So how can I claim that a man who was once quoted saying "I'm trying to rape the viewer into independence." Isn't a mere outrage-monger? Consider the previous part of that quote as his opinion on the medium "I’ve been accused of ‘raping’ the audience in my films, and I admit to that freely — all movies assault the viewer in one way or another." Haneke believe that all films influence and manipulate the audience, whether that be with suggestions about gender politics, love's ability to conquer all, or the usefulness of violence to achieve a goal. Hollywood movies that sell themselves as nothing more than fun entertainment are most dangerous as they anesthetize the viewer while still suggesting a form of reality. Haneke speaks out against the concept of the popcorn movie more than almost anyone, because most of all he wants you, the viewer, to think.
here (without English subtitles)). It is a shocking moment indeed. But what makes it shocking? Certainly not because we've come to truly like Isabelle Huppert's distant, unkind character. Not because we pity her either. And while the moment is certainly surprising, after spending an entire movie observing her psyche we can't claim to be too surprised. It's our investment that's the key. And so it is time after time, in enigmatic films like Caché, The White Ribbon and all the way back to The Seventh Continent. We're asked to commit only to be shocked into thought. This is what makes Michael Haneke the best kind of provocateur.
Haneke's immediate plans are unknown, but no one would blame him for taking a break, especially after completing one of the most successful films of his career (no Oscar, but then again Oscar films aren't usually described as "difficult" or "demanding"). Until his next picture, there's always the back catalog. If you're unfamiliar with Mr. Haneke's work, there's no better time than now (notice: if you're currently experiencing depression or some kind of emotional distress, there may in fact be a better time than now).