Michael Haneke Wins at Cannes

MIchael HanekeThe just-published The Cinema of Michael Haneke: Europe Utopia is the most recent book on the director whose film, Amour, was just awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

The Cinema of Michael Haneke explores the director’s films such as Funny Games (1997), Code Unknown (2000), and Hidden (2005). The authors argue that Michael Haneke’s films interrogate modern ethical dilemmas with forensic clarity and merciless insight. Haneke’s films frequently implicate both the protagonists and the audience in the making of their misfortunes, yet even in their barren nihilism, a dark strain of optimism emerges, releasing each from its terrible and inescapable guilt.

This collection celebrates, explicates, and sometimes challenges the worldview of Haneke’s films. It examines the director’s central themes and preoccupations–bourgeois alienation, modes and critiques of spectatorship, the role of the media.

For more on Michael Haneke and Amour, the New York Times recently ran an interview with the director. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Q. You’ve said you drew on personal experience in making “Amour.” Were you also compelled to tackle the subject of aging because it’s something we seldom see depicted with candor and directness in movies?

A. My impression is that it’s something that is dealt with, though more as a political theme — there have been several films and TV movies about the fate of the elderly. I didn’t do this because I thought it was an important theme, although of course it is. I make my films because I’m affected by a situation, by something that makes me want to reflect on it, that lends itself to an artistic reflection. I always aim to look directly at what I’m dealing with. I think it’s a task of dramatic art to confront us with things that in the entertainment industry are usually swept under the rug.

Q. At the news conference Jean-Louis Trintignant referred to you as a demanding director — he even joked about you directing a pigeon in one scene — but Isabelle Huppert, a regular collaborator of yours, said she did not find working with you at all difficult. Would you say you ask a lot of your actors?

A. Because I’m the author of my screenplays I know what I’m looking for. It’s true that I can be stubborn in demanding that I get what I want, but it’s also a question of working with patience and love. I love actors, both my parents were actors, and the work with actors is the most enjoyable part of making a film. It’s important that they feel protected and are confident they won’t be betrayed. When you create that atmosphere of trust, it’s in the bag — the actors will do everything to satisfy you.

You can be very dictatorial in dealing with actors, but they are going to feel that, and the way they act will show it as well. Or you can lead them to share your opinion, until what they do comes from their own conviction. It’s a question of being determined and being convincing. I’m not someone who enjoys long talks, long rehearsals. I’m very technical: I tell my actors, you come in, you sit down, you pick up a coffee, you look here, you say the line. We try it with the cameras rolling, and if it doesn’t work, we adjust it until it does. It’s very simple.

Q. Are you at all surprised by the warm reception to “Amour”? With some of your earlier films, audiences have tended to react to difficult subject matter more ——

A. —— aggressively? [smiling] I hope that each new film shows a new side of me. The audience responds to this film differently because we know this is something we’ve confronted in our lives or something we know is going to confront us. It’s really about the theme. I don’t think I’m growing wiser or quieter with age.

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