To go with the release of Happy End, here are my Top Five Haneke Moments. Happy Haneke, everyone…
Funny Games (1997)
Michael Haneke’s controversial breakthrough success takes Cannes by storm. Two sadistic youths in tennis whites take a bourgeois family hostage at their summer house. A comment on the mindless violence of Hollywood movies, the cruelty on screen shocked and appalled audiences, but so did the sadistic relish of the violence, during which the characters were able to talk to the camera and rewind the action. Haneke later remade the film, shot for shot, in the US, starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth.
Benny’s Video (1992)
Summing up Haneke’s belief in the numbing power of film imagery, the film opens with teenager Benny’s own footage of a pig being slaughtered, images which the character – and by extension the audience – watches over and over, in slow motion. It’s the only way Benny can experience some emotional reaction. Obsessed by video games, he is immune to his parents’ nagging as he is to tragic global news events.
For me, this is one of the great films of this century already. Starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche as a well-known Paris media couple, this extraordinary thriller is about guilt and surveillance, about watching and being watched. The couple receive strange video cassettes (VHS!) through the letter box showing static shots of their house. Spooked, Auteuil is haunted by a violent nightmare of a boy beheading a chicken with an axe. The film is also famous for the long, static shots that bookend it – opening with a shot of the pretty Parisian house and climaxing with a locked-off shot of the steps of a school in which nothing happens but, as pupils file out at the end of the day, a sense of dread fills the screen.
The White Ribbon (2009)
Haneke wins his first Palme d’Or for an austere, black and white period film set in a rural German village shortly before the outbreak of WWI. Strange events occur in the fields, causing havoc among the village families and leaders, particularly the Doctor, the Baron and the Pastor (the superb Burghart Klaussner). Children are repressed and tied. Every character is complicit, every shot looks like a work of art, its gaze mysterious, unflinching, accusing.
In Hollywood in 2013, Haneke wins the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, cementing his position as one of the world’s greatest directors. The award came after his second Palme d’Or at Cannes the previous May. The film tells the heartbreaking end to a long marriage between elderly couple in a grand Paris flat after the wife, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a stroke. The husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is left to look after her. The film opens, in flashback, with a violent crack of a door being broken open, and foreboding is signalled by the surreal image of a intrusive pigeon flapping around inside the apartment.