Friday, July 1, 2011

THE CINEMA OF MICHAEL HANEKE TOLD THROUGH IMAGES & STILLS

Every film is manipulative, raping the viewer. So the question is: Why do I rape the viewer? I try to rape him into being reflective, and into being intellectually independent and seeing his role in the game of manipulation. I believe in his intelligence. - Michael Haneke

To celebrate the 1 year anniversary of this blog, i figured we'd do another one of these explorations with one of my all time favorite directors; Michael Haneke. This one was a little tricky because unlike the previous directors we explored, Haneke isn't as visual as Michael Mann or Terrence Malick. With Haneke, you don't have the colors and beautiful shots of beachfront property that Mann has in his films (most of Haneke's films feature pretty flat & drab colors) and you don't have the cool lighting tricks and disorienting cinematography that Malick has. And to take it outside of the visual realm for a second, Michael Haneke barely even uses music in his films. But if you're familiar with his work and you take a few minutes to think about it, you'll find that Haneke has his regular themes and signature shots just like any other director... 


SCENES OF VIOLENCE:
At some point in just about any Michael Haneke film there's bound to be one or two cleverly placed scenes of violence that catch you by surprise. His movies aren't exactly "action-packed" or fast paced for that matter. And thats not a criticism. This is something he's aware of and he doesn't set out to make those kinds of films. But at the same time he, like any other director, wants the audience's attention. Just when you start to zone out, doze off or just settle in to the calmness of his movies, he throws in a quick *BANG* in the form of someone getting shot in the face (benny's video), a quick killing spree (71 fragments), someone mutilating their genitalia or stabbing themselves in the chest (The Piano Teacher), or someone slitting their own throat (Cache). These scenes may come at the beginning (like the scene where Ana's husband is shot and killed in Time Of The Wolf), the middle (majid slitting his own throat in Cache) or at the very end (The Piano Teacher). I remember the first time i saw 'Cache' in the theater. The throat cutting scene is one of the best crowd reactions I've ever been a part of. If you could just hear the crowd's reaction, you would think it was a bunch of easily scared teenage girls watching 'Paranormal Activity'...
Benny's Video
71 Fragments
Funny Games
The Piano Teacher
Cache

Time Of The Wolf
VOYEURISM:
This is another common theme in his films. Benny's Video (a movie about a desensitized teenager who films himself murdering a girl) or 'Cache' (a thriller about a family who's been having their house videotaped by an unknown person) are both pretty much based around the idea voyeurism. Whether it be one of his characters breaking the "4th Wall" and addressing the audience directly as if we're right there watching the events take place firsthand and doing nothing to stop it (like the famous scene in Funny Games where Peter looks back and winks at us) or his POV shots that can be found in 'The 7th Continent', 'Cache' and especially the scene in 'Code Unknown' when Juliette Binoche is seen through the lens of a grainy video camera rehearsing a scene for a movie, making us feel like she's addressing us directly. And lets not forget his clever placement of real television or news clips through out his films and just the overall presence of the television in his films (like in 71 fragments, The 7th Continent, The Piano Teacher or Benny's Video)...
The 7th Continent
Benny's Video
Benny's Video
Benny's Video
71 Fragments
Funny Games

Code Unknown
Cache

Cache
WORKING WITH CHILDREN: 
Michael Haneke isn't just great at working with child actors (which you'll find in more than half of his films as key characters) or getting great performance out of them, but he clearly has no problem treating them like adults and placing them in situations that are commonly associated with grown-ups like depression, suicide and murder. Todd Solondz (another one of my favorite directors) has always been critical about the use of children in films. He feels that's its always one of 2 extremes: "cute darlings" or "evil demon monsters" (as he put it during his appearance on charlie rose years ago). Generally speaking i do agree with him, but Michael Haneke is one of the few exceptions who treats children like the complex human beings that they really are...
The 7th Continent
Benny's Video
71 Fragments

Funny Games

Time Of The Wolf

The White Ribbon

RACE:
Only in the last decade has Haneke started to address racial issues. But even with those few films, he does it in a much different way than someone like Paul Haggis did with 'Crash' or even Spike Lee with 'Do The Right Thing'. Haneke deals with racism in the same not so obvious way as a director like Claire Denis. Even outside of the Algerian/French conflict that Cache deals with, there's the scene where George gets in to an argument with a black guy who almost knocks him over. I don't think its a coincidence that the guy was black. And lets not forget George's dream where young Majid cuts off the head of the chicken. That scene was clearly meant to represent french people's fear of immigrants and non-whites living in France. There's also the scene in 'Code Unknown' where the old Arab man scolds the young Arab kid on the train for essentially making their race look bad by playing in to stereotypes. Even 'Time Of Wolf' features a cleverly sprinkled cast of multi-racial characters...
Code Unknown
Code Unknown
Cache
TRACKING SHOT:
Ever since 'Code Unknown' and its amazingly shot opening & ending, you can almost guarantee that there will be a long unbroken tracking shot following one of his main character from the side. I doubt this shot has any symbolic meaning (although who knows) like Kubrick's famous "Glare" shot, but its clearly a technique that Haneke loves to use, and has become a staple in his work...
The Castle
Code Unknown
The Piano Teacher
The White Ribbon
ATTACK ON THE UPPER-MIDDLE CLASS:
Its no mystery that Haneke has a serious bone to pick with the "bourgeoisie" or the Upper-Middle Class (which i always found interesting because I'm pretty sure that's the background he came from). Quite a few of his films revolve around a seemingly happy upper-middle class family who have their worlds turned upside down through suicide (The 7th Continent), Terrorism (Cache & Funny Games) or murder (Benny's Video). At the beginning of these films everything is going great for these families (or so it seems), then Haneke pulls the rug out from underneath...
The 7th Continent
The 7th Continent
The 7th Continent
Funny Games

Funny Games
Cache
Cache


INFLUENCES:
The White Ribbon/The Passion Of Joan Of Arc
Benny's Video/L'Argent
Code Unknown/The Devil Probably
7th Continent/Rendezvous D'Anna
Benny's Video/The Devil Probably
Time Of The Wolf/Stalker
Time Of The Wolf/Ivan's Childhood
Time Of The Wolf/The Mirror
Vertov
71 Fragments/The Devil Probably
The White Ribbon/Sacrifice


BRESSON:
Its obvious that Haneke draws a lot of inspiration from Robert Bresson, although not so much in the performances from his actors. Bresson mostly used non-professional actors with a deadpan delivery, whereas Haneke's films have featured some of the most emotionally draining performances in recent years. But in terms of film making, Bresson's style is all over Michael Haneke's films. Especially his early work. From the blunt and bold opening & closing credits, the minimal use of music, to the axe scene in Cache which comes directly from the ending of 'L'argent' or to how both directors film objects like money and food to the point where they become meaningless. 2 of Bresson's films (Lancelot Du Lac & Au Hasard Balthazar) were on Michael Haneke's top 10 favorite movies list on sight & sound.


Cache
L'argent (Bresson)
The 7th Continent


L'Argent






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