Four Films by Michael Haneke Kino
Austrian director Michael Haneke first achieved North American prominence with 2001’s The Piano Teacher, his unflinching adaptation of countrywoman Elfriede Jelinek’s novel of sadomasochistic obsession. Unrelenting focus on the bleak and brutal lies at the center of Haneke’s work: from claustrophobic studies in middle-class disintegration to post-apocalyptic journeys through state-of-nature chaos he defies the viewer to not look away.
Features The Seventh Continent
Haneke’s philosophical approach to cinematic storytelling seems fully formed in his suffocating 1989 debut, The Seventh Continent. Themes and techniques that will appear throughout his oeuvre are here from the start in hemmed-in, sustained scenes depicting, in no particular order of importance: a) The desperate impossibility of human communication b) The inevitable collapse of family relationships c) The stultifying banalities of middle-class existence, and d) All of the above, with a little extreme violence thrown in. Unlike his later films, though, Haneke goes a little soft in this one, giving the viewer some relief in the form of a final flashback — but you can’t blame him, it’s his first film after all.
His second, 1992’s Benny’s Video, makes no such concession. The eponymous Benny is a young teenage boy (played by Arno Frisch, who makes another chilling appearance in Funny Games) who copes with his alienated bourgeois existence by mediating his experience through the lens of a video camera. With his emotionally detached parents away for the weekend, Benny commits a horrible crime, illustrating another of Haneke’s favorite themes: The Evil That Children Do.
71 Fragments: A Chronicle of Chance 71 Fragments: A Chronicle of Chance, came out the same year as Pulp Fiction (1994) and is a grown-up philosophy professor’s answer to Tarantino’s smugly collegiate multiple narrative gimmickry. In all his films, Haneke’s use of extreme and graphic violence is completely unromantic and difficult to watch; in this film, though we expect it from the beginning, it still comes as a revelatory shock.
The final film in this box set is 1997’s Funny Games, which, if possible, is one of Haneke’s most disturbing films, in which two young men brutalize (psychologically and physically) a vacationing family in the confines of an upper-middle class lakefront enclave. Haneke seems to be developing a theme he will perfect in 2005’s Caché; as such, he commits the same kind of error as in The Seventh Continent and grants the viewer an undeserved, if very brief, break from their swelling existential horror.
So, it turns out Michael Haneke is not a morbidly depressed recluse! He’s actually a really friendly, articulate, fun-seeming guy. Though quick to smile, Haneke is evidently very serious about his work; the articulate reasoning behind his artistic decisions surpasses that of any other artist I’ve ever heard. Seriously, I love this guy.
Did I mention I love this guy? As the world continues its juddering descent into the End Times, we need art that treats us like grownups. Thankfully, we have Michael Haneke.