Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What's up with Michael Haneke?

Michael Haneke
Explain yourself, Haneke!

I’m just not sure about Michael Haneke. I’m just not sure whether his work is genius or it’s the ramblings of a nobber.

Michael Haneke is a Austrian filmmaker and he has made a number of foreign language films in Germany, Austria and mostly (for the ones I’ve seen) in France. His most recent, a remake of an earlier film is in English and set in America.

It’s not like I’ve just written him off after one film; I’ve now sat through almost half a dozen of his films and I’ve still yet to have a, ‘Oh my god, that was amazing’ moment. It’s not that I’m hopelessly cynical either, I have loads of ‘Oh my god, that was amazing, moments when watching movies, most recently with Planet Terror.

YES! Planet Terror – who couldn’t love a film where a mother gives her a child a gun insisting that if he sees his father to shot him, and to be careful with the gun whilst she leaves him momentarily in the car, only to have the child almost immediately shot himself in the face.


There was another reason I liked this movie...

Of course, Haneke’s films are as far from the type of zombie/ action/ comedy/ violence that Planet Terror represents as it is possible to get, and I’m obviously not comparing the two, but they are both movies and they are both designed to be in equal measures art and entertainment (although in both cases Haneke and Planet Terror director Robert Rodriguez miss balance the art/entertainment to varying degrees).

It is also interesting to note that the depiction of violence in Haneke’s movies is far more disturbing than anything Rodriguez has ever and will likely ever come up, him and Grindhouse mate Tarantino.

Here is a brief synopsis for each Haneke film I’ve seen –


Middle class man is (not really) terrorised by videotapes left at his home demonstrating that he is under some sort of surveillance – the purpose of which is never fully disclosed. Middle class man miss appropriates and blame and spirals into guilt ridden introspection.

Funny Games 

Recently remade in the US with Naomi Watts – Middle class family is terrorised by two young politely spoken psychopaths who murder them one by one, child first. Very nasty and very uncomfortable viewing. 

Code Unknown

5 or 6 different story lines, only vaguely connected for a few minutes, progress throughout the running time of the film with little or no resolution.

Time of the Wolf

Middle class family flee an undisclosed potentially apocalyptic event, are initially terrorised (for the first five minutes) but slowly become part of an adhoc (although benevolent) community of refugees waiting for supplies and a train. Again, no resolution offered.

The Piano Teacher

Uptight middle-aged and middle class Piano Professor, lives with her mother and spends her days chastising her pupils and visiting peepshows where she views hardcore porn and sniffs the used tissues of the previous booth occupants. She also cuts her vagina (I think) with a razor blade and pisses on the ground next to a car in which a young couple is frisking about. She ends up having a torrid relationship with a youthful and eager to please student but freaks him out with her list (literally a list) of sado-masochistic demands.

piano teacher

This scene, not as erotic as it looks.

Hmm… I still have the Seventh Continent, Benny’s Video and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance and I will have done his entire film oeuvre, more or less. 

There are two important questions I am asking at this point –

  1. What is the point of his movies?

I think Haneke is trying to portray extraordinary events and people with as much attention to the ordinary as possible, hence no music, little in the way of close ups, long takes and no heightened sense of reality. This isn’t to say his films are either boring or un-cinematic, typically they are neither, with Funny Games and Time of the Wolf out standing as both great visual pieces and dramatic gut-wrenchers.

All of them end with no real conclusion or resolution for the characters (other than Funny Games in a twisted way) and their messages are somewhat oblique to say the least.

Funny Games is probably his most notable and well known, yet it is almost the most detestable simply because the message is clearer and than the rest and for that is much more shallow – the message being ‘Hollywood movies are unrealistic and your vapid desire to see violence and revenge driven satisfying conclusion to these films is pathetic’.


Definitely the best way to shut the kids up

  1. Why am I bothering to watch them?

I think partly because I have a bit of time on my hands with the run up to disappearing to SE Asia, I also have this ‘Lovefilm’ 3 month free rental thing and partly because I’m curious when it comes to movies – I’m just twisted right?

I’m like ‘The Piano Teacher’, except I’m not taking a razor blade to any part of my genitals, well not again, anyway, genital mutilation is so passé.  


Sniffy said...

No film is worth genital mutilation... apart from Trainspotting. I'd rather have my genitals mutilated than watch that. I endured about 15 minutes of it once, it was dreadful.

I love rental DVDs. I just wish I could remember to watch them.

Herge Smith said...

Yep, trainspotting is pretty dreadful... but still, I'd rather watch that than have my wangle sliced with a razor.

spleenal said...

nice use of the word "wangle"

Herge Smith said...

Ta very much, it was an homage to Round the Horne - Kenneth Williams rambling sid rumpole - 'cod wangle'.