I have only seen one Michael Haneke film, Cache (Hidden). However, it was a triumphantly baffling and alluring film. This has created an interest in seeing his earlier films, however, since then I have been having trouble hunting down his other films in Japan. Even if they if they are available they would be only have Japanese subtitles. I guess I might have to buy them online in order to finally see them.
When I was at home this summer my friend Eric recommended Funny Games. He recently did a post on his blog about the upcoming Hollywood remake of the film by the director. The new version stars Naomi Watts and Tim Roth-two fine actors in my opinion. But, still, I would like to see the original version before the new version is released.
He also mentioned a New York Magazine profile on Haneke, so I decided to read it. It was a very interesting profile that makes me want to see Funny Games and his other films even more. I guess I might have a better chance of seeing the Hollywood remake before getting around to his German language version. Here’s an interesting discussion of Cache and violence in film from the New York Times Magazine profile, Minister of Fear:
His most widely seen film in the U.S., “Caché,” released in 2005, won Haneke his second major prize at Cannes and is perhaps the director’s most delicate balancing act. By turns both Hitchcockian thriller and cool morality play, “Caché” follows a Parisian haute-bourgeois family as it unravels in the face of a harassment campaign that is chilling in its simplicity: each morning a videocassette containing footage of the family’s house is mysteriously dropped off on its doorstep, showing the comings and goings of each family member but giving no clue as to the maker of the tape. No overt threats are made, and no explanations given, but the family — Daniel Auteuil, Lester Makedonsky and Juliette Binoche, in her second starring role for Haneke — do the rest of the harasser’s work for him. By the end of the film, a devastating secret has come to light, a man has been killed and the family is damaged beyond repair.
“Caché” is simultaneously the most conventional and the most opaque of Haneke’s films, and arguably the most effective. While one of the central mysteries of the film — the question of who is making the tapes — is never resolved, why the tapes are being made soon becomes clear. The father of the family, to all appearances a model left-leaning intellectual, is a man with a crime in his past: as a boy, during the time of the Algerian conflict, he betrayed a young Algerian ward of his family, resulting in the ward’s abandonment and eventual suicide. Though Haneke resists being represented as a political filmmaker, it’s hard to avoid seeing a message here: namely, that the comforts of the bourgeoisie have been paid for in blood, and in the case of France, that blood was largely North African. In our talks, Haneke repeatedly criticized films that summarize or explain themselves to the viewer — that do the audience’s work for it, in other words — but “Caché” comes dangerously close to doing just that. Yet, just as “Caché” seems about to supply the viewer with any number of conventionally satisfying solutions, it slyly — some would say maddeningly — refuses to choose between them, closing with an intriguing final shot that may or may not hold the answer. The fact that the film ultimately succeeds is no small tribute to the director’s considerable talent as a juggler of audience expectations.
Largely because of its preoccupation with violence as entertainment, “Funny Games” has been compared with Stanley Kubrick’s “Clockwork Orange.” Haneke himself, however, views “A Clockwork Orange” as a noble failure. “I’m a huge Kubrick fan, but I find ‘A Clockwork Orange’ a kind of miscalculation, because he makes the brutality so spectacular — so stylized, with dance numbers and so on — that you almost have to admire it,” he told me. “I read somewhere — I’m not sure if it’s true — that Kubrick was completely shocked when he saw how the public reacted to ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ and that he even tried to have the film recalled. It became a cult hit because people found its hyperstylized violence somehow cool, and that was certainly not what Kubrick had intended.” Haneke shook his head slowly. “It’s incredibly difficult to present violence on-screen in a responsible manner. I would never claim to be cleverer than Kubrick, but I have the advantage of making my films after he made his. I’ve been able to learn a tremendous amount from his mistakes.” Whether one of those mistakes was to make a film that actually had popular appeal was a question that Haneke left unanswered.
Haneke’s sudden prominence, and the unfailingly extreme subject matter of his films, has led to comparisons with Quentin Tarantino, with John Woo and with the directors of the so-called Asian Extreme movement, but Haneke himself sees little common ground. “I saw ‘Pulp Fiction,’ of course, and it’s a very well done film,” he said. “The problem, as I see it, is with its comedy — there’s a danger there, because the humor makes the violence consumable. Humor of that kind is all right, even useful, as long as the viewer is made to think about why he’s laughing. But that’s something ‘Pulp Fiction’ fails to do.” When I mentioned Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers,” another film that “Funny Games” has been compared with, Haneke shrugged. “Stone made the same mistake that Kubrick made. I use that film to illustrate a principle to my students — you can’t make an antifascist statement using fascist methods.”