Michael Haneke is an Austrian director, one of the few to have won the Palme d'Or twice. In my humble opinion, he is one of the greatest filmmakers alive. So far he has made movies in French, German and English. In one of his interviews, Haneke suggests music as the art form closest to movies; this particular statement made me a student of his work. If we were to identify the central elements of his movies, they are violence - physical, mental or verbal and alienation.
Born in 1942, he made his first feature film in 1989, titled The Seventh Continent. It is about, an apparently happy family made of the husband, wife and daughter deciding to commit suicide. The audience is not told the reasons for this decision - this is another defining feature of his work - the movie is not forced upon the observer, leaving the questions open to the interpretation of the viewer. Haneke himself has stated his attempts not to 'sell' his ideas, but rather present them in the best possible manner. The summary of the movies presented here, constitute my perspectives on them and it might be the case that somebody else might violently disagree with them.
Benny's Video his second feature film made in 1992, raised controversies due to its cold depiction of violence in the mind of a teenager. Benny likes to capture videos - of everything. In the process, he invites a friend home and kills her. The entire process is shot and recorded which is later viewed by his mother, and the story progresses. The coldbloodedness of the character, Benny is stunningly captured by the filmmaker. Here, we can see a gradual progression from violence directed at oneself, to violence directed at the other, the outsider.
71 fragments of a chronology of chance released in 1994 is a masterpiece in filmmaking. It consists of 71 apparently random shots, representing separate storylines, intersecting towards the closure of the movie. The theme of the movie is a mass killing at an Austrian bank. As is evident, the violence within an individual is shown to be directed at many people.
Funny Games released in 1997 depicts the psychology of two serial killers by focusing on one of their 'endeavours'. The victims constitute a family who are on vacation. Arno Frisch who played the character of Benny in Benny's Video plays the mastermind among the two serial killers.
Code Unknown released in 2000 attempts to portray the alienation faced by the modern European psyche. The fundamental questions of existence and love are addressed here, as also the issues of migration and identity.
The Piano Teacher released in 2001 depicts the relationship of a middle-aged woman with a younger man, who is her student. The teacher's role is brilliantly played by Isabelle Huppert. Haneke is said to have written the script with Huppert in mind and he did not want anybody else to play the role. Once you watch the movie, the reasons for this insistence become clear.
Time of the Wolf released in 2003 derives its title from Bergman's Hour of the Wolf and has common elements. The movie presents bleak themes of despair, scarcity etc. Isabelle Huppert once again is the main protagonist playing the helpless woman whose husband is killed and has to take care of her daughter and herself in the wake of an apocalyptic disaster.
Funny Games was remade in English and released in 2008. I believe the original is better than the remake.
If I were to choose the best of his work, it would be The White Ribbon, released in 2009. It shows a village somewhere in Austria/ Germany before the first world war, where shocking incidences of violence keep happening. The persecution of children on the basis of morality and religion is also shown. It is anybody's guess as to who these children grew up to. Breathtaking photography and art-direction, minimal use of words and expressions are the hallmark features of this movie. This movie has made me think that we have in our own era, one filmmaker whose body of work is comparable to the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky etc.
Haneke's latest work, Amour is expected to be released in October. He is also reported to be working on a movie which portrays the effect of internet on the lives of people.