Haneke on deep French cinema and fantastic American television

Haneke on deep French cinema and fantastic American television
By Anja Bencze
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Over the last 25 years, Austrian film director Michael Haneke has established himself among the most important creative talents in cinema history. From his early work to this year’s foreign language Oscar-winner, ‘Amour’, he has forged a unique style, which is sober and realistic, and delves into our secret fears and taboos. Haneke has just received the Prince of Asturias Prize. Anja Bencze spoke with him in the northern Spanish city of Oviedo.

Anja Bencze, euronews: “Michael Haneke, the list of prizes you’ve won fills pages – European, German, Golden Globes, two Palmes d’Ors, an Oscar, and now the Prince of Asturias Prize. Which of these has brought you the most pleasure?”

Michael Haneke, Film Director: “I’m thrilled with each one, because I want the films to be seen, and awards always make people curious, and they watch them. I’m always delighted. And, of course, if it’s an important prize, you feel that even more, when you have a lot. But that’s not to say I’m not pleased with a small festival prize. It’s a great pleasure, better than the alternative.”

euronews: “‘Amour’, a film about love, the end of life and fearing death won you several awards, and a career climax. The Oscar ceremonies were a few months ago. With hindsight, how do explain such a success with a film that isn’t mainstream, since it deals with a subject that everyone tries to avoid?”

Haneke: “I think it has to do with when the film came out. I always say that it wouldn’t have had the same success ten years earlier, that’s sure. Because this subject was drawn to the centre of public attention by the media, as one we should talk about. But it was also a stroke of luck. That as much for me as for my producers at the start, when I told them I wanted to do a film about this, we said it’s poison at the box office: we’d be better off not doing it. But since it interested me, as I was confronting this problem in my private life, I forced the decision, and in the end everyone was satisfied. It’s marvellous it got done.”

euronews: “Your films are loved and feared, since they bring the viewer face to face with fears and secrets. Violence is an important subject – psychological and physical violence; do you understand that some people live it as torture?”

Haneke: “I can’t contradict any of that, but no one’s forced to go to the cinema. There’s often this reference to my film ‘Funny Games’, which was somewhat known as a provocation, to show people what they expose themselves to when they watch a violent film. Because usually in mainstream cinema violence is treated as consumer goods. We sit in the theatre and watch what’s going on but we’re not concerned because it’s only a movie. And that makes me furious. That’s why I wanted to show the spectator just what he’s an accomplice to.”

euronews: “You’re Austrian, born in Munich, raised in Vienna – where you still live. You’ve worked in Germany and keep making French films with French actors in French. Why is that; where do you feel at home?”

Haneke: “I feel at home wherever they let me work. Of course, it’s easier to make films in France, demanding films, I’d say – not purely commercial cinema. It’s easier to find the money to do that in France. Also, there are such excellent actors in France. That’s not to say there aren’t excellent actors in Germany. But that’s the way it is. I was able to make one film in France because Juliette Binoche saw my Austrian films and called me up to ask if we could do something together. I was absolutely stunned and I thought someone was playing a practical joke on me. Then we made a film, and other opportunities came up. Now I have a lot of friends in France and I love working there; but that doesn’t mean I don’t work in Germany and in Austria. It also depends on the story we want to tell.”

euronews: “When we Google your name, there’s a Twitter account for a Michael Haneke with some pretty funny comments. It’s a parody by a journalist fan of yours. The account’s closed now, but it was very appreciated, with more than 20,000 followers at times. You laugh, but you don’t really appreciate online social media. Why not?”

Haneke: “No, I didn’t say that. I laugh because I didn’t know, and then some students told me. Then I went to look and found it funny, but that’s all. It’s not true that I don’t like new media; quite the opposite: my new film, that I’m writing, touches on the subject a bit. It’s just that I’m not in it constantly. I just don’t have enough time for that sort of thing.”

euronews: “You’ve brought me to my next question: can you tell us a bit about your next film project?”

Haneke: “I can’t tell you any more. I’ve done that too often and then had to correct myself and apologise afterwards because the film talked about something I didn’t mention. I swore this time I’d keep quiet.”

euronews: “A lot of American directors at the moment are turning away from cinema to make television series. You come from television; is this a vision of the future for you?”

Haneke: “If commercial cinema stays as weak as it is, it’s natural that people with slightly more intellectual ambitions look for a spot. No one would have thought ten years ago it was possible for television to have a renaissance thanks to directors in the US who got frustrated and started making series. I find what they’re doing is fantastic! Partly they’re really intelligent stories, that we don’t get in American movies. So, why not? What happens with it all, no one can say. Otherwise we’d already have predicted what’s happening now. As long as they let me, I’m going to keep on working, for as long as I have ideas. I might not have any, and then I won’t force myself. But as long as it works and people want to see it, there’s no reason to stop.”

euronews: “We’ll hold you to it! Thanks very much.”

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