Michael H. Profession: Director Review
“In all my films, I have made an attempt to approach the truth. Whether I have succeeded is another matter. And I have always tried to take my viewer seriously. If you take someone seriously, you can tell them unpleasant things that upset all of us.” (Michael Haneke)
Austrian director Michael Haneke (born 1942 in Munich) was a late starter in the cinema. Although he worked as a television director from 1974, he did not make his big-screen debut until The Seventh Continent in 1989. Since then, he has been a prominent figure in world cinema, and one whose work we have covered comprehensively on this site, as the review links demonstrate. Haneke is one of the few directors to have made two Palme d'Or winners at Cannes, and the only one to do this with consecutive films, The White Ribbon in 2009 and Amour in 2012. However, some do have issues with his work, principally for reasons of didacticism (especially evident in both versions of Funny Games - German-language original 1997, US-set English-language remake in 2008 – a film which is extremely violent in order to make the point that watching screen violence is bad) and a bleakness that borders on the nihilistic at times That said, his command of the medium is undeniable, and his films do succeed in their aim to unsettle us and ask difficult questions.
This documentary, made for television by Yves Montmayeur, is a feature-length portrait of Haneke, making use of new and old interviews and on-set footage. It begins with a key scene from Benny's Video (1992), before Haneke delivers the quote above. Then we see Haneke at home, washing his face and cleaning his teeth, crosshairs in the centre of the image mimicking a favourite device of Haneke's, a blurring of the line between “reality” and reality mediated, especially via a video camera. Often we don't realise that the former is actually the latter until Haneke “rewinds” the image. (This is a device that Haneke uses to great effect in Hidden especially, also as an alienation effect in the Brechtian sense in both versions of Funny Games.) We are actually on a film set, of his (as I write) most recent film, Amour. From that point, we go through Haneke's career in reverse, film by film, ending up with The Seventh Continent before returning to the present and Amour. Along the way, we hear from several of the actors who have worked with him, such as Jean-Louis Trintignant, Isabelle Huppert and Susanne Lothar. We also hear that Haneke likes to “have fun” on set – adding to the impression that people who make dark and troubling works are often the most genial people to meet – for example, playing air guitar with a young girl on location for The White Ribbon. However, this does not dispel the impression that Haneke is also something of an autocrat and you have to wonder how much we are actually seeing of the man and how much he is letting us see.
There are some omissions. We don't see anything of his television work, one of which, his adaptation of Kafka's The Castle (1997) is available on DVD in the UK. Also, given his dismissive comments about the offers he has received from the American major studios, it's noticeable that Funny Games U.S. is not mentioned at at all, as if erased from history.
The film does contain some major spoilers for Haneke's work (Hidden especially), so it is questionable if this documentary is a good introduction to Haneke or one best recommended to those already familiar with his work. (Before watching this DVD and writing this review, I made a point of watching those of Haneke's cinema films that I hadn't seen before, and that proved to be a wise thing to do.) Those squeamish or easily offended not already forewarned by the 18 certificate should note that the film does show some graphically violent material from several of Haneke's films, not to mention shots of hardcore pornographic magazines in an extract from The Piano Teacher. You should also note that a scene showing the killing of a chicken – not simulated – from Hidden is also included...a clean kill, so passed by the BBFC as not being in breach of the Cinematograph (Animals) Act of 1937. (The end credits cheekily list “several chicken” as contribution to Hidden's making-of footage.)
Michael H. Profession: Director is a DVD-only release from Artificial Eye, on a single-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only.
I've specified 1.78:1 (anamorphically enhanced) as the ratio for the DVD transfer. However, this ratio – used for the more recent interviews and on-set material – contains different aspect ratios within it. The aspect ratios of the films are respected, whether that be 1.85:1 (Amour, The White Ribbon, The Piano Teacher, Code Unknown, Funny Games), 1.78:1 (Hidden, his first digitally-captured film, Amour being the second), Scope (Time of the Wolf) or 1.66:1 (71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, Benny's Video, The Seventh Continent). It should be noted that Artificial Eye's DVDs of the last three, inherited from the now-defunct Tartan, are cropped to 1.78:1 but the extracts here are in the correct ratio. Also, around the time of Hidden and earlier, the interviews and making-of footage is more often 4:3 than not.
The soundtrack is a mixture of French and German, depending on who is being interviewed and the language of the films being extracted. Subtitles are fixed, so if you are fluent in either or both languages, you do not have the option of switching them off. The soundtrack is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0, but I couldn't tell the difference: this documentary sounds like plain mono to me, which would be faithful to the soundtrack of the earlier films in any case.
The only extra is the theatrical trailer (2:25), which is worth looking at as it contains film extracts not in the feature itself, and it extends the video-rewinding gambit to them.
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