It hardly needs saying that the adjective in the title is about as accurate as the one in Haneke’s Funny Games. Happy End is a satirical nightmare of haute-bourgeois European prosperity: as stark, brilliant and unforgiving as a halogen light. It is not a new direction for this film-maker, admittedly, but an existing direction pursued with the same inspiration as ever. It is also as gripping as a satanically inspired soap opera, a dynasty of lost souls. The movie rehearses almost all of Haneke’s classic themes and visual ideas: family dysfunction, inter-generational revenge, the poisonous suppression of guilt and the return of the repressed. There is the horror of death combined with a Thanatos-like longing for its deliverance – one line in particular shows how Happy End has been inspired by the climactic moment of his previous film, Amour. There is the distinctive preoccupation with surveillance and video recording as technologically unsparing moral reproaches to what we choose not to see in our own behaviour. And Haneke combines this with a new interest in the affectless visual texture of social-media livestreaming, instant messaging, and YouTube supercuts. Continue reading Michael Haneke – Happy End (2017)
Ever wonder about the ancestors of the murderous jocks in Funny Games? In the Palme d’Or-winning The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke time travels to rural Germany on the cusp of WWI to find the answer—or, rather, to make the audience’s collective skin crawl at the question. The setting is the small village of Eichwald, a bucolic commune that, presided over by such stern patriarchs as the landowning baron (Ulrich Tukur) and the pastor (Burghart Klaussner), is presented as a 19th-century holdover inexorably giving way to the darkening modernity of new times. Not that Haneke displays much nostalgia for the town’s traditions: Life here is dismal, oppressive, and rigidly hierarchical, erected on puritanical morals and reinforced with ritualized punishment. Hitler—the “bitter flower of German irrationalism,” as Hans-Jürgen Syberberg once put it—may still lurk beyond the horizon, but the seeds of fascism have already been sown in society’s unquestioning adherence to power structures. Continue reading Michael Haneke – Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte AKA The White Ribbon (2009)
It was just a matter of time before Michael Haneke and Franz Kafka crossed paths. The Castle, the Austrian filmmaker’s made-for-TV version of the Czech writer’s famous unfinished novel, promises an intriguing meeting between these two dedicated misanthropes, yet despite the overlapping bleakness of their worldviews, the film is notable mostly as an example of how somebody can follow a work to the letter and still miss its essence. K. (Ulrich Mühe) comes in from the cold, summoned by the mysterious officials at “the Castle” to an isolated village for a position as land surveyor; instead he finds himself reluctantly engaged to forlorn barmaid Frieda (Susanne Lothar), saddled with a couple of dolts (Felix Eitner and Frank Giering) for assistants, and trudging in circles in the snow, helplessly trying to unscramble the tortuous snafu that’s made him “superfluous and in everybody’s way.” Haneke’s last Austrian picture before his departure to France and richer, less offensive films (The Time of the Wolf, Caché), The Castle is something of a companion piece to the director’s deplorable, hectoring Funny Games, even bringing back the earlier film’s tormented couple for another round of inexplicable distress. Continue reading Michael Haneke – Das Schloß AKA The Castle (1997)
Haneke depicts the emotional story of an adulterous relationship between a journalist and a teacher. The film poignantly explores the difficult dynamics between people who love one another but still can’t keep from hurting one another. Variation has been described by its director as being closer to John Cassavetes than to Hollywood melodrama. Continue reading Michael Haneke – Variation (1983)
Die Rebellion (The Rebellion). 1993. Austria. Directed by Michael Haneke. With its silent-era aesthetic of sepia tones and muted color tints, and its interweaving of realism and fantasy, Haneke’s haunting adaptation of Joseph Roth’s expressionistic 1924 novel is an homage to the great Weimar cinema of G. W. Pabst and F. W. Murnau. In a heartbreaking performance, Branko Samarovski plays Andreas Pum, a soldier who loses his leg during the Great War and becomes an organ-grinder to earn a few coins a day. To this loyal citizen of the State, the veterans and firebrands who march in protest against society’s neglect are lazy, insubordinate “heathens.” But when an ugly tram incident condemns Pum to a life of penury and loneliness, his soul is awakened to the bitter waste of a life spent in duty to God and Empire. In German; 90 min Continue reading Michael Haneke – Die Rebellion (1993)
The second part of Haneke’s “glaciation trilogy” begins with a buzz and a bang: the white noise of a television screen snow shower and then the bang of a pig being shot on the subsequent home video. Benny’s Video is the most accessible film of the trilogy, but still never departs from Haneke’s powerful concoction of brutal images and laconic montage. Benny is a neglected son of rich parents in Vienna. He spends his days and nights in his room lost in a cobweb of video equipment, cameras, monitors and editing consoles. He keeps his shades drawn at all times and experiences the outside world mediated through the camcorders he has set up outside his windows. He obsessively reviews the farmyard killing of a pig in forward and reverse, slow motion and freeze-frame. Intermittently, he flips through channels full of news on neo-nazi killings, toy commercials, war films and reports on the incipient war in Yugoslavia. One day he meets a girl at the video store and invites her back to his empty house. He shows her the stun-gun used to kill the pig and shoots her with it. The girl’s death is shot visually out of the camera’s frame although the audience is privy to excruciating minutes of screams and whimpers. In the end, Benny foils his parents’ perversely cynical attempt to cover up the murder. Continue reading Michael Haneke – Benny’s Video (1992)
What do you do if a stranger comes to your home and politely asks to borrow some eggs?
So far, it doesn’t sound like a good film, but Funny Games isn’t a good film. There’s no way it can be middle-of-the-road, it’s either brilliant or awful, depending on your point of view. Consider that when this film was first shown at Cannes, a lot of the audience walked out, including some professional film critics. In short, this is a film you need to see to have any true appreciation of how it works. I could describe everything that happens in minute detail, and still not impart what actually happens. Continue reading Michael Haneke – Funny Games (1997)