Film Lists by Sophie Legg
Austrian film director and screenwriter, Michael Haneke is one of Europe’s most prominent and controversial auteurs working today. He began his career in television and theatre and it wasn’t until late in his career at the age of 33 that he began working in film, with his 1989 cinematic debut Der siebente Kontinent [The Seventh Continent]. From then on his films have gained much praise and international recognition.
Common themes in Haneke’s dystopian works include discontentment and estrangement experienced by individuals in modern society – namely the European bourgeoisie, the personal suffering and increased disconnection experienced by humankind and the inherent cruelty and violence lying under the surface of modernity. His films are provocative and complex challenges to his audience and rely heavily on his interest in psychology, philosophy, spectatorship, semiotics and violence in the media.
Some of Haneke’s biggest cinematic influences include such European greats as Alfred Hitchcock, Andrei Tarkovsy, Michelangelo Antonioni, Robert Bresson, and Krzysztof Kieslowski and it is clear to see their influences on his visual and narrative style.
Haneke is a provocative yet cerebral filmmaker who believes that cinema’s most important function is to disturb and disorient its viewers, assaulting them out of their habitually passive ways of perceiving reality. The master of enigmatic endings, Haneke is much more interested in “raising questions rather than giving answers”. Haneke’s films are often existential and as such do not provide easy answers, which allow his audience to form their own opinions and question their own perceptions and provide a means of self-reflection.
10. Le Temps Du Loup [Time of the Wolf] (2003)
In Haneke’s sombre drama, in the aftermath of a catastrophic global disaster, the Laurent family; mother Anna (Isabelle Huppert), father Georges (Daniel Duval) and their two young children, retreat to the presumed safety of their holiday home in the French countryside. Upon their arrival they discover their home has been invaded by another desperate family. In an unexpected and violent act Georges is brutally killed and the family are left to fend for themselves in a nightmarish apocalyptic landscape. After finding a group of survivors, the family has hopes for salvation, but in this barren land where social order has been destroyed and tensions run high, there is ultimately no faith left.
This film is enigmatic in its entirety – with no explanation given for the disaster that has affected these people or resolution to their plight. Although the film includes violence, we are not shown any bloodletting, except for a scene of real horse slaughter, which although was filmed under human conditions, caused great controversy. Haneke shoots the film with attention to realism, using only natural light sources and a gloomy and darkened color palette to reflect the grim, desolate landscape. Le Temps Du Loup is a challenging film which questions the morality and brutality of human kind in a world with no social order.
9. Code Inconnu [Code Unknown] (2000)
Like Haneke’s previous 71 Fragmente, this cryptic and elusive film follows the intersecting lives of a group of Parisians representing differing social cultural and economic backgrounds. We are introduced to actress Anna (Juliette Binoche) and her war-photographer boyfriend Georges, his brother Jean who has run away from home and their father who is struggling to keep his emotions suppressed while running his farm. Other characters include African immigrant Amadou who teaches music to deaf children and his taxi driver father and Maria, a Romanian immigrant who is deported from France for begging. The lives of these characters have no real narrative importance or resolution – the film it is merely a glimpse into their everyday existence.
Despite the ubiquitous narrative, there are clear themes of the lack of communication in our Western and ever-expanding multicultural society, racism, war, poverty and love. Code Inconnu is arguably Haneke’s most challenging and repeat viewings are necessary to grasp the film’s complex messages but like life itself, this film provides no easy answers, but asks some fascinating questions about the human condition and our interactions in modern world.
8. 71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls [71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance] (1994)
This film is the third in Haneke’s Glaciation trilogy focusing on the violence and alienation of the bourgeoisie. This experimental collage film by Haneke is comprised of 71 scenes which follow the lives of several people in Vienna over the course of a year; they include a homeless Romanian boy, a bank security officer, a childless couple, a frustrated student, and an old man. This non-linear narrative culminates in a violent bank shooting involving these seemingly un-connected characters.
71 Frangmente is a slow-burn mystery in which each narrative puzzle-piece fits together to form a whole film. Like a great Hitchcockian mystery, as the film progresses, we learn more information about each character which gives us clues to their involvement final scene. The short fragments of the film highlight the seeming emotional distance and alienation in contemporary Austrian society. The often mundane and trivial scenes of these characters are a comment on the seeming insignificance and banality of human life. Haneke sees us all as merely drops in an ever-expanding ocean.
7. Der siebente Kontinent [The Seventh Continent] (1989)
This film is the first in Haneke’s Glaciation trilogy focusing on the banality and alienation of everyday life. The film follows three years in the lives of the well-to-do Schober family Georg (Dieter Berner), Anna (Birgit Doll) and their young daughter Eva as they live their mundane existence. The family is seen living their ordinary lives – going to work/school, cooking meals, doing the grocery shopping etc. But a sense of deep malaise and disconnection slowly creeps over Georg and Anna and after much deliberation they decide the only way to free themselves and their daughter from their mundane existence is through self-annihilation, methodically destroying all their worldly possessions in the process.
This slow-burn drama from Haneke utilizes many visual distancing techniques such as the use of extreme close ups so we cannot see the character’s faces and a distinct lack of dialogue to make the film hit emotionally hard. The final scene in which the family violently and coldly destroys their belongings is a wonderful comment on the un-importance of materialism and the futility of existence. Like his other films, Haneke does not provide any motivations or explanations on why such an extreme and violent act occurs, which disturbingly makes us question our satisfaction with our own lives.
6. La Pianiste [The Piano Teacher] (2001)
In Haneke’s provocative and erotic thriller, middle aged piano teacher Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) lives at home with her overbearing and controlling mother, while her father resides in a mental asylum. Despite her successful job, Erika is weak and struggles for autonomy and fears the loss of respect from her students, even getting jealous of their talents. In spite of her austere and professional demeanor, Erika lives a very lurid existence behind closed doors; a secret life of voyeurism, sexual repressions, sadomasochistic fetishes, self-mutilation and inner turmoil. When handsome, young and talented piano player Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel) manipulates Erika into giving him private music lessons, the two of them begin a dangerous and unsettling sexual relationship based on control, humiliation and fantasy-fulfillment.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Austrian Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, La Pianiste is a complex and challenging film which explores the dynamics of power and submission within relationships – sexual and otherwise, using a frame of Freudian psychosexual analysis. Huppert is brilliant as the severe and deeply disturbed Erika, who is a prisoner of her own desires. Erika cannot live without brutality – towards others, but most of all towards herself – she is a master of self-discipline and self-destruction.
5. Benny’s Video (1992)
The second film in Haneke’s Glaciation Trilogy, Benny’s Video follows Benny (Arno Frisch) a German teenager who is ignored by his busy parents, Anna (Angela Winkler) and Georg (Ulrich Mühe) and so spends his time locked away in his room watching violent films and shooting his own videos of the world around him. Benny revels in escaping to this visual fantasy world, which he finds much more interesting than reality. Benny invites a girl to his house (Ingrid Stassner) to watch violent movies but after being provoked, he murders her with no show of emotion. Benny’s parents find out about the tragic event and after realizing they are in danger of being arrested, take the disposal of the body into their own hands, leading to unexpected consequences.
Benny’s Video is a cautionary exploration of the disconnection and dehumanizing effect that media violence can wreak on human beings. Like many youths in today’s media-saturated culture, Benny has become desensitized to violence, both in real life and on-screen. He is fascinated with and un-phased by the violent images he watches on screen which puts him in the dangerous position of blurring the lines of reality and fiction. Benny’s Video is a disquieting look at the moral and ethical consequences of a world obsessed with violent media.
4. Das Weisse Band [The White Ribbon] (2009)
Das Weisse Band follows the everyday lives of the residents in a quiet but repressed rural Protestant village in pre-WWI Germany. Suddenly a series of bizarre and malevolent incidents begin occurring – a farmer’s wife dies, a local doctor is injured, children are abducted, crops and property are destroyed – and nobody knows who is responsible for these events or the motivation behind them. As a result, a climate of fear sweeps over the town and it is the children who are presumed guilty of these crimes, and are subsequently punished severely. Are these acts of spite or merely tragic accidents?
Das Weisse Band is a perplexing and mysterious film which asks us to think about the evils and secrets of the past, but ultimately gives us no insight or answers. We never find out who instigates these incidents or why they happen. Are they a result of the town’s children revolting against their strict and violent upbringings or are the children not involved at all? Is this a precursor to the kinds of human agency which led to the horrors of the Nazi regime or, as the film’s narrator (Ernst Jacobi), implies, could these events “perhaps clarify some things that happened in this country?” This is Haneke’s only film shot in black and white, but this is visually beautiful and adds great depth to the film’s historical feel as well as the impending sense of dread.
3. Amour (2012)
Haneke’s latest and arguably most restrained film, Amour follows long-married retired music teachers, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), and their content married lives in their autumn years. When Anne suddenly has a stroke which incapacitates her physically and mentally, the responsibility is put on her husband to care for her every need. Georges obliges out of his loving devotion to Anna yet his frustrations grow as the beloved woman he fell in love with turns into a shell of her former self, at the hands of this cruel disease.
Amour is a raw and unadulterated look into the human condition, the power of love and the heartache that is involved with the inevitability of aging, deteriorating and death. Anyone with family members in Anne’s position can surely understand the difficulty and harrowing emotions involved in watching a loved one deteriorate right in front of their very eyes. Haneke’s depiction of the eternal struggle with accepting what is happening while still trying to preserve the dignity and the memories of happier times is simply heart-wrenching. Despite the depressing and all-too-real narrative, the wonderful performances and simplistic story make this film incredibly moving and must-see viewing.
2. Funny Games (1997)
In this radical and provocative thriller, a well-to-do couple Georg (Ulrich Mühe), Anna (Susanne Lothar) and their young son Schorschi arrive at their lakeside holiday home, only to have it invaded by two ultra-polite men dressed in white, Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering). Despite their pleasant demeanor, these young men turn out to be sadistic homicidal psychopaths who want to play violent ‘games’ with the family – terrorizing, brutalizing, torturing, and eventually killing them. Their innocent family holiday turns into a nightmarish vacation from hell.
Funny Games sets out to critique film audiences’ consumption of on-screen violence and the lasting physical and psychological effects of watching it. The perpetrators in the film are completely sadistic and no explanation is given for the pleasure they gain from making the family suffer. Like the killers themselves, we are enjoying witnessing their vicious treatment of the family – but why do we enjoy it? The film satirizes the representation of violence in mainstream Hollywood media by subverting the usual conventions of a thriller – in one scene for example, reality is abandoned when the killers use a television remote to ‘rewind’ a scene when things don’t pan out for them. Interestingly, most of the violence happens off-screen, so it is up to us the audience to imagine what is happening, while at the same time pondering our pleasure in watching violent acts on screen.
1. Caché [Hidden] (2005)
In this Hitchcockian psychological thriller, paranoia grips a bourgeois French family when a series of anonymous and mysterious surveillance tapes of their home accompanied with morbid drawings appear on their doorstep. At first Georges (Daniel Auteuil), Anne (Juliette Binoche), and their son, Pierrot think nothing of these packages, perhaps they are a sick prank, but as the footage on the tapes becomes more unsettling and more personal to Georges, he begins to suspect something more sinister. The tapes eventually lead Georges to track down childhood friend Majid (Maurice Bénichou) and predatorily scrutinize his involvement in the tape-sending saga. The events which follow unsettle George’s family and unravel his life, as his secret past and guilt come back to haunt him.
This compelling politico-psychological film deeply explores the denial and guilt of George over his past actions, and allegorically, the guilt and denial of French society over their involvement in their occupation of Algeria. The film is very suspenseful and enigmatic, leaving the speculation of the identity of the sender of the tapes up to the viewer. But perhaps the most interesting and unsettling voyeurism of the film is the constant changing of viewpoints. As an audience, we are never sure who’s point of view we are watching the film from – Georges, Majid, the mystery sender of the tapes or classic meta theory – is it indeed Haneke himself? It may be that Haneke is merely using his cinematic prowess to tease and intrigue his audience.
Author Bio: Sophie completed her Masters Degree in Creative Arts at Monash Univeristy, Melbourne. She loves everything about film but her passion is for extreme horror films, foreign and independent cinema and art film/avant garde films.