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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.