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Dr. Haneke's diagnosis

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Michael Haneke, Austrian experimenteur.

UPDATED (03/15/08)

Selected interviews: From Adam Nayman's interview/review with "Funny Games" director Michael Haneke in Toronto's eyeweekly:

“I’m trying to impart in my films what mainstream movies work to take away,” explains Haneke in an exclusive interview. “Namely: reality. I’m making movies that are inconsumable. And I can only do that by portraying the suffering of the victim, rather than the enjoyment of the perpetrator.” [...]

Haneke says that he had always conceived "Funny Games" as an assault on American films, and that the remake merely serves to place the action in its correct context. (It also creates severe cognitive dissonance; my eyes kept scanning the impeccable, palpably Euro-art-house compositions for subtitles.) Over the past decade, American genre flicks have only grown more sadistic.

“This makes my film even more up-to-date than it was before,” laughs Haneke. So what about the trailers, which make the film look like the very dreck it means to critique?

“If that kind of marketing brings in the audience that I want to reach, then that’s fine,” says Haneke. “The bigger the audience, the better… every filmmaker feels that way. The difference [between myself and other filmmakers] is that I am not willing to make any concessions within the films themselves.”

From Nick Dawson's interview at Filmmaker Magazine:

Haneke: ... There is not one source but the whole of society is at the [core of the problem]. For me, the most irritating point today in comparison with 10 years ago [is that], even for the intellectual people, in this kind of post-modern view of life it became chic to make violence as an entertainment, even for the filmmakers and the critics, and this I find is a little bit disgusting. [laughs]

Filmmaker: So do you watch Tarantino movies and the like?

Haneke: Of course. If you are in the business you need to see at least the most exposed examples. [laughs] But I don't go very often to the cinema. I prefer to see the films I like [laughs] when I have time, so I'm not somebody who's going to see the newest films.

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Promotional art for the 1997 version.

Filmmaker: You were talking before about how this film is about violence in American cinema and how you wanted it to reach an English-speaking audience. So what do you hope the impact will be? And what change do you hope might come about?

Haneke: A film can do nothing, but in the best case it can provoke so that some viewer makes his own thoughts about his own part in this international game of consuming violence, because it's a big business. [laughs] So maybe one or other [person will ask], “What am I doing when I'm working for this? Why am I working for this?” That's the top from the possibilities. [laughs] And I'm not a social worker. [laughs]

Filmmaker: So in an ideal world...

Haneke: I don't believe in an ideal world. [laughs] [...]

Filmmaker: You were famously quoted as saying that cinema was “twenty-four lies per second.”

Haneke: This was a joke because it's famous phrase from Godard [“Cinema is truth 24 frames-per-second”], and I said it's a lie 24 times a second to serve the truth. What I will say is that film is always a manipulation.

Filmmaker: I mentioned that quote because there's a line in the film which says that an act of violence is real if we see it, whether it is fake or real.

Haneke: This is a very ironic dialogue, [laughs] but in a certain way it's true. Because the violence is in you, in your mind, so it is real. [...]

I try to provoke a little bit, to reflect where I am looking at cinema. That's all. I have no lesson to give, because I wouldn't know what the lesson is. [laughs]

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"Funny Games" (2008).

From Peter Keough's interview in the Boston Phoenix:

I was thinking of the scene with the kid with the pillowcase over his head — Abu Ghraib crossed my mind.

It was actually on the poster of the first "Funny Games," and it was way before Abu Ghraib, but the associations of course have multiplied.

So do you think "Funny Games" inspired Abu Ghraib?

You don’t need to inspire these kinds of things. You don’t need to tell people how to commit violence. When the first film came out — well, it had not come out yet, it was finished, but nobody had seen it yet. There was an article in Der Spiegel about a case in Spain where two young men got white gloves [part of the MO in "Funny Games"], very polite, the whole thing, and tortured a family — one person to death. [...]

With "Funny Games," however, you are making a movie criticizing Hollywood, and therefore Hollywood subverts itself.

Yeah, I hope.

What does Hollywood get out of the deal?

I would think it’s the classic motive that they make money on it.

You don’t think they brought you out to Hollywood to corrupt you?

I am not famous enough for this.

From John Weis's interview in the New York Times:

“It was funny — funny for me, at least — how the theater [at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival] reacted to Anna’s shooting of Dickie,” Haneke told me, referring to a scene late in the film when the heroine turns the tables on her captors. “There was actual applause at first — then, when... [the audience is made] conscious of what it’s cheering for, the theater went absolutely silent. There was a general realization, even though the victim in this case was a villain in the film, that they’d been applauding an act of murder.” Haneke frowned slightly at the memory, but the frown appeared to be one of satisfaction. “I’m hoping for something similar when ‘Funny Games’ shows here.”

The decision to remake his signature work in America with an A-list cast caused considerable controversy among hardcore cinephiles, not least because of Haneke’s reputation as one of Hollywood’s most outspoken critics. Haneke was quick to defend himself. “Of course I’m a critic of the studio system,” he said, as if it were unthinkable not to be. “But that doesn’t mean that one can’t work within that system. ‘Funny Games’ was always made with American audiences in mind, since its subject is Hollywood’s attitude toward violence. And nothing has changed about that attitude since the first version of my film was released — just the opposite, in fact.” When I asked whether the average American moviegoer was likely to appreciate having his attitude adjusted, Haneke-style, the director thought for a moment, then threw up his hands in mock surrender. “I’ve been accused of ‘raping’ the audience in my films, and I admit to that freely — all movies assault the viewer in one way or another. What’s different about my films is this: I’m trying to rape the viewer into independence.”

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