Auteur 101: Michael Haneke

28 February 2013

James Zarucky explains the careers of filmy people.

In a career spanning more than three decades, Austrian director Michael Haneke has established himself as one of the most important contemporary European auteurs. His films are notable for their unrelentingly austere style and disturbing subject matter. The director himself has stated that he wishes to challenge and polarise audiences with his work, rather than merely entertaining them.

This is perhaps best exemplified in Funny Games (1997/2007), which depicts the ordeal a family undergoes at the hands of two sadistic young men. Haneke deliberately toys with audience expectations, refusing to give any respite as the torture intensifies throughout. Ten years following its original release, he inexplicably shot an identical English language re-make with Naomi Watts.

Another notable work is the psychosexual drama The Piano Teacher (1997). Isabelle Huppert plays a damaged piano professor who initiates a toxic relationship with a student. Its scenes of sexual violence are shocking, yet Haneke’s hypnotic and reserved direction makes it difficult not to watch.

In relative terms, perhaps Cache (2005) would be the most accessible entry point in Haneke’s filmography. Sure, it’s about a couple who are stalked by unknown individuals, but you might retain some faith in humanity by the film’s end.

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