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Home > Festivals & Events > Cinema and its Discontents: Five Films by Michael Haneke
Cinema and its Discontents: Five Films by Michael Haneke
September 19, 2010 until October 15, 2010

"I wish you a disturbing evening."
 Michael Haneke

One of contemporary cinema’s most controversial directors and hailed as “one of world cinema’s most important auteurs” (Ben McCann, University of Adelaide), Michael Haneke (b. 1942, Munich) has been making theatrical feature films for over twenty years.  Inaugurated in 1989 by his haunting parable of alienation THE SEVENTH CONTINENT, Haneke’s oeuvre is distinctive in its persistent – even aggressive – and always intellectually stimulating questioning of the protocols of civilization and the means by which they are transmitted and understood, notably by modern forms of media including cinema and television.  A particular zone of conflict for Haneke is the normalizing and alienating effects of cinema and television in relation to interpersonal communication – what we might have once called empathy – and knowledge.  Haneke himself states, "My films are intended as polemical statements against the American 'barrel down' cinema and its dis-empowerment of the spectator. They are an appeal for a cinema of insistent questions instead of false (because too quick) answers, for clarifying distance in place of violating closeness, for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus." 

Haneke continuously tests the hubristic assumptions of mainstream media and their epistemology of immediacy against his own highly developed cinematic modernism – a modernism which takes as its fundamental building-blocks ambiguity over assurance, and meditation and the eruption of sudden violence over consumption and the pleasures of generic signifiers of action.  As Christopher Sharrett aptly puts it, Haneke’s “harrowing explorations of psychological and societal breakdown and the oppression of technological civilization evoke a yawn only from those who accept the terms of this civilization.”  His vision is committed to presenting and critiquing this civilization and its discontents, in all its complexity.

"He is concerned with a society that no longer knows how to love – or for that matter how to hate. His films are an attempt to resharpen our feelings and responses to the world around us, which have been blunted, especially by the media." 

Andrew J Horton, Kinoeye

Influenced as much by the rigourous, ascetic minimalism of Robert Bresson and the visual intelligence of Michelangelo Antonioni as the critical theory of Theodor Adorno, Michael Haneke’s oeuvre testifies to the continuing power and relevance of cinema as a contemporary art form.  Within the intensified and mediated cinematic frame, Haneke poses questions to the viewer about the nature of, for example, spectatorship, violence and citizenship (as evinced in his remarkable French language feature debut CODE UNKNOWN [2000]), at once carving out and respecting the distance necessary to the posing of such questions.  Haneke may sometimes appear to take the posture of a finger wagging moralist in his provocations, but the inherent ambiguity of his realism complicates this reading; indeed, it is the very ambiguity of Haneke’s cinema, disturbing in the precision of its volatile mixture of mediation and chance, that creates the space for the question of morality – or what critic Robin Wood calls Haneke’s “astonishingly poised and precise moral vision” – to enter the cinematic equation.  Following Adorno, we could posit that Haneke accomplishes the near impossible feat of finding aesthetic autonomy for cinema, that most highly commercialized art form, by way of burrowing into the social issues and mediatized violence of the contemporary world as a formal problem immanent to cinema as such.  In this way, Haneke would seem to combine an art of engagement with social issues and forms of communication (video not least among them) with a formalism of the highest calibre, creating a cinema at once abstract, even at times hermetic, and intensely realistic and historical.

"Haneke is perhaps the most important European filmmaker currently active."

Robin Wood, Art Forum

Before he began making feature films, Michael Haneke studied philosophy, psychology and theatre of the University of Vienna.  He began his career writing and directing for television in 1970.  Haneke is also involved with stage drama and opera; having recently directed Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI for the Opéra National de Paris at Palais Garnier he is set to direct COSI FAN TUTTE in Madrid in 2012.  The influence of and intertextual reference to theatre and music, featured most prominently in THE PIANO TEACHER (2001), is worthy of consideration, as the problem of art and feeling – aesthetics and affect – in our culture of consumption appears again and again in Haneke’s films.  In the truly generous spirit of Michael Haneke’s cinema and its discontents, we wish you five rewarding and, yes, disturbing evenings.

Scott Birdwise

Michael Haneke  •  Austria  •  2009  •  144 min
Sunday, September 19, 2010, 7:00 pm, Auditorium, 395 Wellington St.
English Subtitles
Michael Haneke  •  France  •  2005  •  117 min
Sunday, September 26, 2010, 7:00 pm, Auditorium, 395 Wellington St.
English Subtitles
Michael Haneke  •  France, Austria  •  2001  •  131 min
Thursday, September 30, 2010, 7:00 pm, Auditorium, 395 Wellington St.
English Subtitles
Michael Haneke  •  Austria  •  1992  •  105 min
Saturday, October 2, 2010, 9:15 pm, Auditorium, 395 Wellington St.
English Subtitles
Michael Haneke  •  Austria  •  1989  •  104 min
Friday, October 15, 2010, 9:00 pm, Auditorium, 395 Wellington St.