A bleak and disturbing style rubbing the coarse threads of obscure and sometimes contradictory and incoherent desires. A somewhat disconcerting and nasty view of human nature that is presented through swift and satirical discourses on a variety of moral and political concerns. His ultimate goal is to reveal his characters deeper and often conflicting impulses and its eloquent pause before being put into action. Its either misanthropic or its the way the world the works; responsibility, guilt and an inability to change the course of events. Michael Haneke would not not spend so much time detailing human sadness in such intricate and innovative storytelling if he was a misanthrope, or so it would appear.
His latest film,The White Ribbon, is typical. The movie is set in 1913 and deals with strange incidents in a small town in Northern Germany. The vibe is an an authoritarian, fascist-like atmosphere, where children are subjected to harsh punishment, for disobeying stringent rules, a la Oliver Twist, except here the narrative is punctuated by the occurrence of bizarre and not plausibly explicable deaths.
”From the start of his career, Haneke’s films have been calculated to shatter the viewer’s complacency to a degree rarely seen since the early work of Mike Leigh or perhaps since the politicized days of the French New Wave. Haneke’s characters are adrift in a profoundly dysfunctional world, one in which consolation and insight are equally hard to come by. One of Haneke’s greatest successes, both critically and commercially, was “The Piano Teacher,” adapted from a novel by Elfriede Jelinek. The film, released in 2001, stars Isabelle Huppert as Erika Kohut, an aging, severely repressed classical pianist who begins a disastrous, sadomasochistic affair with her most promising student. The film won the grand jury prize at Cannes and best acting awards for both of its leads, and it drew packed crowds at art-house theaters across Europe and the United States. As Haneke’s prominence grew, however, so too did resistance to his methods. He has repeatedly been criticized as a purveyor of shock cinema, not so much for the violence in his films… as for the often brutal way in which the meaning of that violence is explored. “Violence in my films is shown as it really is,” Haneke has said. “The suffering of a victim. The viewer comes to see what it means to act violently — that’s why the films are often experienced as painful.” (John Wray, New York Times )
The ideology at least at its core, is a deep dislike of the traditional Hollywood film formula, and the happy ever after story line so cherished in the construction of this perfect world. The distrust is channelled and replaced by the black sheep, the untrustworthy narrator, a form of confidence man who melds seamlessly into his anti-genre films. Film which appropriates the structure yet at the same time comments upon itself as a form of shocking the viewer into self awareness. An anti-manipulation of the larger genre of the movie industry’s tendency as vehicle of political and social manipulation.
Haneke’s are stark studies in violence and alienation, though the most graphic violence is out of view, in the shadows, lurking and waiting to time its entry. However, to confront the use of violence as titillation, he must employ the tools of the trade in making his own violent narrative, which has to find the seam, the sweet spot between cliched appropriation and innovative approach. This is achieved by a refusal to furnish the viewer with conventionally satisfying solutions.
The politics and the morality tend to be ambiguous and tilt the dynamic of the thriller/horror genre into uncharted waters. the headwinds encountered are the subtle yet inevitable politics which generally center around the angst and guilt of the bourgeoise; their comforts due to their willingness to protect their territory, but finding themselves hermetically sealed and gasping for breadth. The structure nonethheless incorporates a variant of the standard sex/guilt/death triad and the violence is still stylized to some extent which is unavoidable.
” Those who escaped to America were able to continue the storytelling approach to film — really a 19th-century tradition — with a clear conscience, since it hadn’t been tainted by fascism…. But in the German-speaking world, and in most of the rest of Europe, that type of straightforward storytelling, which the Nazis had made such good use of, came to be viewed with distrust. The danger hidden in storytelling became clear — how easy it was to manipulate the crowd. As a result, film, and especially literature, began to examine itself. Storytelling, with all the tricks and ruses it requires, became gradually suspect. This was not the case in Hollywood.” ( John Wray, New York Times )