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The All-Time Favourites #13: Code Unknown

Unforgettable Scenes #3: Code Unknown

Great Directors: Michael Haneke

Last night I watched Michael Haneke’s tremendous thriller, the mysterious and chilling The White Ribbon. It was Haneke doing what he does best, and it inspired me to write a post about this fantastic director, his lifetime and films.

He was born in Germany, and spent most of his life taking a keen interest in film and television. It wasn’t until middle-age that he finally began to direct feature films. His first was The Seventh Continent, based on the true story of a mass family suicide. It was the first of a trilogy of three followed by Benny’s Video and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, two more films examining violence in modern society. It was with his next film, however, that he proved he wasn’t squeamish to presenting violence in an unsettlingly honest manner. Funny Games was released in 1997, and seemed to be a plotless film about mindless serial violence, though Haneke has said he prefers to have the violence ‘implied’ rather than seen. He was intent on getting his point through, so much so that exactly ten years later he directed a shot-for-shot American remake starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth.

The next movie, in 2000, was a character study, titled Code Unknown, starring Juliette Binoche and telling of a chain-reaction series of events. His next film, in 2001, was where he gained true fame (and notoriety). The Piano Teacher is a sexually graphic, violently suggestive and brutally stunning motion picture telling of sexual obsession and visceral self-harm. It won various awards, including Cannes Best Actor and Actress for its two leads, and sealed Haneke’s fate as a director of coldly beautiful movies with seedy underbellies.

He reteamed with the star of that film, Isabelle Huppert, for his next film, a post-apocalyptic vision called Time of the Wolf, made in France. The film was quite good, but noticeably less successful and screened at Cannes out of competition.

His next film is, in my opinion, his absolute unbeatable best. Caché (titled ‘Hidden’ in English) is his creepiest, slow-paced and most thought-provoking thriller. It tells of a couple (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) who are uneasy and frightened after receiving videotapes of their house from a hidden camera that seems to be impossibly positioned. It asks countless questions about human secrets and how we react to dangerous situations, as well as featuring cinematography and direction that are, in no exaggeration or hyperbole, a serious work of masterful art.

After the Funny Games remake came the Cannes success The White Ribbon, the film which prompted this post. Haneke shoots in black-and-white this time, and tells a gripping tale of mysterious events in a wartime village. Various characters begin relationships, and everybody is a suspect for committing the serious crimes. The film is very reminiscent of the movies of Ingmar Bergman, filmed in an eerily similar style and with an eerily similar plot. Imagine Picnic at Hanging Rock meets Fanny and Alexander.

We are now eagerly awaiting the release of his newest film, Love, which I’ll be sure to see and review.

Leave a comment and tell me which Haneke films you’ve seen, and what you thought of them. You can see, from this amazing filmography, what a talented and brilliant director Haneke is, and I hope this will prompt you to check out any of his amazing films. He is one of few directors who, in my opinion, has never made a bad film. And that is quite something, indeed.

Thanks for reading.

My Thoughts on Kieslowski’s “Three Colours” Trilogy

An iconic image from the third instalment of Kieslowski's trilogy

I’ve always been interested in French cinema, from the comedic and sweet (Amelie) to the disturbing and tragic (Irreversible). I thought it was finally time I catch up with some more, and decided to acquaint myself with Kieslowski and his famous Three Colours (or Trois Couleurs, if you prefer) trilogy.

For those of you who are unaware of the trilogy, it is a series of three seemingly unrelated films named for the colours of the French flag (Blue for Liberty, White for Equality and Red for Fraternity)  which study contemporary French society through the eyes of a lonely widow, a desperate hairdresser and a curious model, respectively. It is an excellent and intriguing trilogy which kept my full attention the whole time, and after Red’s fabulous final scene, I wanted to go back and watch the whole trilogy once more. Which I did.

Blue tells of the sad, lonely woman (Juliette Binoche) whose husband and daughter have just died in a tragic car accident. Binoche’s character is confused, alone and estranged amongst society, at first repressing emotions and struggling to figure out what to do. However, a few chance encounters with a few certain people change the way she thinks about her husband and herself.

White tells of the homesick Polish hairdresser Karol Karol, whose wife has just divorced him simply because he can’t get it up. He is alone and questioning; without his wife his life means nothing. His wife frames him for burning down a building, and so, with the police searching for him and without a passport, he very creatively sends himself back to Warsaw. It is a common love story, but a unique and touching one.

Red tells of the model (Irene Jacob) who, after running over a dog stumbles into the world of a lonely, voyeuristic old man who eavesdrops on his neighbour’s conversations. Their quirky but poignant relationship leads them along an unpredictable plot; a journey of discovery, whilst simultaneously we are presented with the story of a young law student who discovers his girlfriend is cheating on him. Red is certainly stronger and more powerful than the others, and that’s not just because of the final scene, but rather because of the way it presents us with its story, which is unique and unlike its predecessors. There is some sort of magic in the air here, faint but strong, which leads us along a magical path to the other side, a mixture of utopian fantasy and dystopian reality.

Disaster strikes in some form at various moments without the trilogy, and forces us to step back and examine the wreckage (whether real or metaphorical), and contemplate on how this affects us, how these films have affected us, and how these films could affect others. Kieslowski certainly knows how to tell a story, and we have him to thank for this amazing, enduring tale.