Many of those who meet Austrian
filmmaker Michael Haneke in person are surprised at how jolly and gracious he
is given the cold-blooded brutality and perversity of his films. Myself, I was
surprised to see how much he resembled Lloyd Schwartz, Pulitzer Prize winning Phoenix classical music
critic and a jolly and gracious fellow himself. So impressed was I by this
resemblance that I suggested that Lloyd
interview Haneke when he was in town (Lloyd’s interview with Jerry Seinfeld
will appear as the “Backtalk” in the 11/2 Phoenix).
Or maybe have Haneke interview Lloyd. This was dismissed as yet another of my
too often repeated jokes.
At any rate, I ended up
interviewing Haneke myself (through an interpreter, a highly competent woman
who works at the U.N. and didn’t respond to my references to Sidney Pollack’s
“The Interpreter” or its star Nicole Kidman), even though Haneke seemed to
speak English pretty well with a slight accent (then again, it could have been
Lloyd having one on me). He (Haneke, not Lloyd, was in town as part of the ongoing retrospective of his films at the
Harvard Film Archive and
the Museum of Fine Arts and
in particular was promoting his shot-for-shot remake of his own “Funny Games,” starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Michael Pitt. It's screening
here in a sneak preview but not opening theatrically until February (a situaton
he seems very unhappy with). Here’s how things started out.
PK: It must be gratifying to come
to the United States and be
celebrated at the Museum
of Modern Art and here at
MH: Yes, it is always a pleasure to have
recognition. It’s not my first retrospective, but my first on in America.
PK: It’s the heart of the beast,
isn’t it, America?
MH: (laughs) Yes.
Peter- But it was less gratifying
working with the Hollywood studio system on
your new movie?
MH: It was of course no problem
at all working with the actors. But as far as the team was concerned, and the blown up apparatus on to you, that was less pleasant to work with. You know,
for each job you have five people. If I want a glass of water, I tell the
assistant, the assistant tells it to the procure man, and they in turn tell
someone else, and it takes ten minutes to get a glass of water. I hate that.
PK: Is it like a union thing?
MH: Yeah. That was not so
PK: And in dealing with the
actual producers, and the people who finance the movie and distribute it?
MH: They are pretty much thinking that they are it,
you know? They are pretty arrogant. They ask what I want to be done and turn
around and do whatever they want. However in shooting, I had a contract that no
one can interfere, and they were forced to let me do whatever I wanted.
PK: When I heard that you were
remaking the film shot by shot, first I thought of George Sluizer’s “The
Vanishing,” who made his very successful
European movie into a Hollywood movie and it
wasn’t so successful. I also thought of Gus Van Sant’s remake of “Psycho,” which didn’t do so
well, either. With those prior examples, weren’t you a little daunted doing
MH: Yeah, I mean you’re always a bit worried. Gus
Van Sant was a little bit different because it was a study. He didn’t do his
own film as a remake -- he made someone else’s film. For me the first “Funny
Games,” the one in Europe, was meant for
consumers of violence, and it was a slap in the face for these people. … So
when I had the possibility to do it in English, I took the opportunity. And now
the film has arrived at the audience that it was meant to be at. It was meant
for the United States
to begin with, because “Funny Games” has
an English title. There was a house in the German version that no house in Austria is like
that. It was a set. And, you know, we tried to imitate a classic American
colonial house, you know, with the center staircase. And so there was a reason
for doing the remake, so when I was offered to make the remake I said sure, I’d
love to do it, but only if Naomi Watts is going to play the lead role.
PK: Did she approach you, or did
you just see her in a movie and say…
MH: No, I approached Naomi.
PK: What was it about her performance or what drew
you to her as an actor?
MH: “Mulholland Drive”and
“21 Grams.”She was really great in both,
PK: “21 Grams” is 50
grams short of your “71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance.”
MH: It was successful, no? I know
that the director likes my films. He wrote a very enthusiastic review of “Code
Unknown” in some US
PK: It’s similar to “21 Grams” and “Babel” --
the multiple narrative.
MH: Yes, these films have similar
PK: There’s no multi-narrative really in "Funny Games."
MH: I mean I did a few films that did this but, you know, I’m not forced to do every
film the same way of course.
PK: “72 Fragments” is kind of like Kieslowski’s “Three
Color Trilogy” without a happy
MH: “The Trilogy” is three dramas, three stories.
They come together in a disaster.
PK: But they’re saved. I guess that’s
the difference right there, one of them anyway. It seems like you are drawn to
a particular actor, like Daniel Auteuil, you wrote the role in “Cache”
him. Do actors provide your inspiration for making movies these days?
MH: I mean it’s not THE inspiration, no. But if I
like an actor or an actress then obviously I’m very intrigued to get to know
them, and it’s very gratifying then to get to work together. In Juliette
Binoche’s case, she approached me. She had seen some of my films, some of my
television films, so she called me and asked me whether we could do something
PK: And they all asked to do more
movies with you. Maybe Naomi Watts can do a sequel to this movie!
MH: We can do one of these multiple end things
where the viewer has the ability to manipulate which end he’d like.
PK It could be a video game
MH: Yes (Laughing).
PK: This is how you make money
these days. So it’s a shot by shot remake but there are some differences. What
are the differences?
MH: Well the difference is obviously the actors.
The actors have a different charismatic, different way of portraying things,
and that obviously results in differences. And I did try and really succeed in
reflecting all the shots one to one. I mean there are even shots that I
wouldn’t have done in such a way nowadays, had I done the film from scratch.
But because I decided to do an exact replica in terms of shots, I left them in.
PK: So you’ve become a better
filmmaker since you repeated the same?
MH: If it’s better? I don’t know. It’s a different
PK: It’s also different because 10 years have
passed and there are different connotations and historical contexts.
MH: In some ways I feel that the film has become
more up to date because violence in the media, if anything, has increased, and the
senseless consumption of it. I mean, you had to do nothing different, you had
to change nothing, and it became more apropos. And the social level I am
describing there, they are the same all over the world. I mean whether they are
in Austria or in the United States, they are “bo-bo-” maybe you know
that expression describing the bourgeoisie in France. A well educated,
cultivated, and still saturated blasé bourgeoisie. In other words the people
from which I come.
PK: But it’s not the group of people who go to see
movies like "Saw IV" or "Hostel" or something like that.
MH: The young people? Or the “bo-bos?”
PK: [agenda in mind, obviously
not paying attention] I was thinking of the scene with the kid with the
pillowcase over his head- Abu Ghraib crossed my mind.
MH: Yeah, you know, it was
actually the poster of the first “Funny Games,” and it was way before Abu Ghraib,
but the associations of course have multiplied.
PK: So do you think “Funny Games” inspired Abu
MH: (Laughs) No. You don’t need
to inspire these kinds of things. Yesterday, actually, at the master class
[taught for students at the Harvard Film Archive], I mentioned a story that
illustrates that 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 it
had not come out. Nobody had seen it yet. There was an article in “Der Spiegel,” a German magazine, and it had talked about a case that happened in
where two young men got white gloves [part of the m.o. in “Funny Games”], very
polite, the whole thing, and tortured a family -- one person to death.
PK: So when the movie came out
they probably started blaming you for it.
MH: It’s interesting to see the parallels because
the two young men that did that, in reality, were two well educated people. One
was a student of chemistry, and when he was put in jail he actually then wrote
a very intelligent essay. He quoted Nietzche and everything and the worthlessness
of life. The victims deserved to die, he argued, because there is no point to existence.
PK: That Nietzsche -- he's got a lot to answer for. Do you remember the Virginia Tech killings,
where a student killed 20 or 30 other students? They were saying that it was
inspired by this Korean movie because there was a shot of the killer with a
hammer and there was the same shot in the Korean movie. He made a video of his
like, manifesto, and it’s the same shot as the movie. But he never saw the
movie, he never played video games. He just spent his time in his room doing
nothing. He never had any connection to videos. So it’s like as soon as
something like this happens, they look for something in the film culture or
MH: It’s a clever method of the lawyer’s too. It’s
the famous litigation of “Natural Born Killers.”
PK: Right. But you also seem to
suggest in your films, and in Benny’s video, and that whole “glaciation” trilogy
that there is an alienation effect that images and video and the whole culture
seem to have. Some people start losing their connection with reality.
MH: Now our understanding of reality is really
based on television nowadays, and that’s of course very dangerous because the
images are not the reality. So I always in my films try to nourish some
distrust in taking this reality for granted.
PK: Do you own a TV?
NEXT: What Michael Haneke watches