Sydney Film Festival - Day 6, The Other 2%

Michael Haneke is an award winning director and screenwriter.  His latest film was Amour, a French film about an old married couple dealing with illness, old age and death, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2012.  It is the latest in a long line of films he has made, both in France and Austria, that deal with an uncomfortable subject matter that leaves audience polarised and challenged.  Michael H. Profession: Director is a documentary about him.  This 71 year old filmmaker was born in Munich, Germany in the middle of World War Two, and grew up in Austria.  He is best known for his bleak and disturbing style and is described by one of his actors, Isabelle Huppert, as a radical.

That is just what he is.  This documentary outlines his approach to film making and his insistence on not interpreting his movies for his audience. He believes that there are two types of directors, those who make films as art and those who make films for the industry.  He says 98% of them make films for the industry.  The best way to describe his approach is summed up when Haneke, as part of a writers' panel with The Hollywood Reporter, was asked his view on films inspired by real events, such as the German film Downfall, about the last days of Hitler, "First of all, I have to say that I argued with Bernd Eichinger about the film. I found it both repulsive and dumb. Well, because when you're dealing with a figure of such deep and broad historical context, the question is, who are you humanising? What are you doing with him? You're creating melodrama, you're trying to reach your spectators, to move your spectators, but what emotions are you calling on?  There is a question of responsibility, as not only a question of responsibility towards the person you're depicting in the historical context, but first and foremost to your viewers, your audience. Responsibility entails enabling your audience to remain independent and free of manipulation. The question is how seriously do I take my viewer, to what extent do I provide him with the opportunity of creating his own opinion.  Confronting the historical figure on their own? Am I trying to force my opinion on the spectator, or on the contrary am I taking the spectator seriously and providing him or her with the means of creating and forming their own opinion? That's a fundamental question, whether you are dealing with a historical figure like Hitler or simply an individual who you have written for the script."

That is a singular approach to movie making, and one that has worked well for Haneke.  There are not many directors out there who could resist the spectacle or the emotional manipulation of the viewer.  He is one of the few who challenges the viewer to decide for themselves about how the film makes them feel, especially when that decision makes the viewer very uncomfortable. As a viewer, I find that this can be confrontational, especially if the film shows us some unpleasant aspects of life or human nature.  So going to see one of Haneke's movies is always a tough choice for me.  The documentary about him as a filmmaker, on the other hand, was not a tough choice.  It is quite fascinating, especially if you like to hear people discuss their approach to creating art.