Panicky Haneke?

For those countless Michael Haneke fans who have been putting off attending screenings of his films at the Harvard Film Archive and the Museum of Fine Arts, don’t wait any longer. There are a couple more shows scheduled at the MFA this weekend.  Dismayed by the poor turnout for the series. one programmer who chose to remain anonymous said he despaired of the current audience for serious cinema in Boston, let alone the United States. Well, what of the success of "Saw IV?" Isn’t that serious enough? Anyway, here’s more of Haneke trying to explain himself.

PK: Do you watch TV?

MH:  Not so much. I see the weather, and the news, and from time to time a movie, or when somebody I know has an event. No, I’m not really looking a lot. We have it in one room. We have to go in this room to watch it. It’s too boring. The programming gets worse everyday- not as bad as in America but nearly.

PK: Commercials are kind of entertaining. That Aflac duck…

MH: Takes too much time.

PK: Do you think the world would be a better place without TV?

MH; No, I mean I don’t want to appear here as an opponent of progress. And it’s also not worth thinking about it because television exists and you can’t do anything about that. I mean you could also argue the world would be healthier without automobiles.

PK: The nuclear bomb must have seemed like a good idea at the time, too. But what can you do?

MH: I mean, maybe the only part one can play is to dampen the trust that people put in this  and tell them to start thinking about it a little bit. The fact that people already believe they are informed even though they are not is also politically dangerous.

PK: So by coming out to Hollywood to make a movie criticizing Hollywood subverts Hollywood.

MH: Yeah, I hope.

PK:  So what’s their motive?

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

PK: But you don’t have a conspiracy theory that they brought you out to Hollywood to corrupt you?

MH: I am not famous enough for this.

PK: Well, when this movie comes out…

MH: We’ll see. We’ll see.

PK: The argument made by these movies is that the images and media somehow affect behavior. Can’t that be an argument to people who want to censor art and media? People that say that if it has this kind of effect it should be censored?

MH: Yeah I don’t know if you know [garbled]. He’s German. He writes songs. He writes that what is forbidden is what makes us hot, you know. So I don’t think it’s a good idea.

PK: Like pornography. It’s a much bigger industry than Hollywood itself. One aspect of this retrospective that I found very rewarding was the earlier films that you made. Going back to “Lemmings” which I found very engrossing and disturbing. It takes place in the 50s in the town that you grew up in, right?

MH: Yes.

PK: Is it somewhat autobiographical?

MH: Yeah I mean, it’s certainly not in the sense that the main actor is me, and his friend used to be my friend. Not in that literal sense. But of course there is a lot of my own experiences from my youth that I used in that film. Life was like this in a little town.

PK: So everybody was committing suicide back then?

MH: There were some.

PK:  The historical circumstances would certainly lead to it.

MH:In the 50’s everything that happened ten years before was suppressed. Both in the schools and in society and in people’s conversations it was treated as though it never happened. Nobody talked about the past. We were all busy with our own problems, or with school. It was the same generation that spawned the fifties. Later on in ‘68 with the protests and so on as students we discovered what had really gone on. In the 50’s, German history stopped at World War I.

PK: There also is a theme that goes through most of your films about generational  conflict, between children and parents and between siblings.

MH:  Well it’s part of life for everybody. I mean I always try to tell stories that have as high of an identification as possible for people. So that’s why it’s always the same because those are the people who buy the tickets and go to the movie. Besides it’s the only thing that I do know first hand: the small family.

PK: It’s the microcosm of society.


PK:  Your earlier  films came out at the end of the German New Wave in filmmaking. Were you influence by that?

MH:  No, not at all. I was not really interested in the German cinema. I was much more influenced and interested in the French and Italian cinema.

PK: Many of your films are focused on violence. Have you ever seen any actual violence or experienced an act of violence?

MH:  Not violence to the degree that I show it in my films, no. No, thank God. But the day is not over. I mean I am a little bit of a fearful person. For example if I see a bunch of young people hitting each other over the head, I leave.

PK:  So you haven’t actually been the victim of violence or seen a victim of violence except for maybe on TV.

MH: I experienced a little bit of violence in the 60s when the police would batter the students. I was one of them.

PK: Hit with a nightstick? But you did change the world, right?

MH: From time to time, we are all a little bit naïve.

PK: Everyone was disillusioned about the outcome of the 60’s protest. How did it affect you?

MH: Yes, of course, you know, one is disappointed by how far back we were pushed. It’s a shock to see the society in which we live nowadays; we all try to eat each other, so to speak. And when you see how the 60’s generation tried to construct a world, it is quite a disillusionment how it turned out, yes.

PK:Do you think you can make change through movies?

MH: I think it’s a basic question to what degree you can change society with art. I mean, I doubt very much you can. You know, whether one book or one film might serve the purpose of changing the world. But I believe very strongly that without art the world would be poorer.

PK: Your films often make people change their way of perceiving things. Like the last scene of Caché; people spent the whole end of the film watching that almost seemingly uninteresting image to see what was going on. At least that film succeeds in getting people to watch the movies instead of just reacting.

MH: If someone becomes a bit more retentive as a result of watching a film I think you have already achieved quite a bit.

PK: Is Ron Howard really remaking that film for Hollywood?

MH: He announced his interest in doing the film. But it’ll become a different film, for sure. They asked me too if I wanted to do it, but I said, “No, it doesn’t interest me at all.”You would have to adapt it much more to U.S. conditions; you would have to find a comparable case and a historical precedent. I’m unable to do that; I’m not familiar enough with American society. Besides, there’s no reason to remake Caché; it was never meant for an American audience; it was meant for a European audience. Whereas, with "Funny Games," it was remade for the reason I told you before.

PK: Because it was an American film that was first made in Austria?

MH: Yes [laughs.]

PK: Do you think there would be another American director who would be better suited to make that remake?

MH: I have no interest in who’s going to remake it. It hasn’t been bought yet, we just have an option on it. Who may, or may not, ultimately buy it, I have no opinion on it, because it won’t be my film. It might be quite amusing, though; you know, you have the original then and you can compare it to whoever makes the remake.

PK: Maybe it’ll have a happy ending.

MH: Could be.

PK: But it already has a happy ending.

MH: At least they don’t get murdered.

PK: Not yet, anyway. You’re making a film in Austria now?

MH: Yeah, well, in Germany. It’s a co-production with French, Austrian Italian and even a little American money as well. But it is made and it plays in Germany.

PK: So it’s for a German audience?

MH: No, I hope for an international audience. It’s not a movie for the big audience; it’s about the education of the Nazi generaton and so I don’t think that it’s a big movie for the big public.

PK: I was reading a New York Times Magazine story in which you said that the reason why Hollywood is still telling stories in their movies is because they didn’t live through WWII. European directors are suspicious of stories because Nazis used stories to regiment people. Is that what you’re going to show in this film?

MH: No, it’s going to be on how children were raised and the psychological environment. For example, I was always fascinated by observing or knowing that Italian fascism was so different from the nazi mentality and why that may be. I’m interested at this point how to create mentalities and create children to be such adults. 

PK: Your parents were probably part of that generation.

MH: Yeah. The film obviously plays before the first World War in 1913 or 1914 in a little village.

PK: Before World War I?

MH: Well, yes, because that’s when they were children.  The main figures in the film are children and they later, in their 20’s and 30’s, will become adults. But the film is just their childhood.

PK: There was a book by Norman Mailer that was about the childhood of Hitler. Have you read that? I

MH: Yes, yes, I’ve heard about that.

PK: It’s actually quite good. Mailer’s in the hospital right now, I hope he’ll going to be alright. I just saw the publicist come in so it’s time for three unrelated questions. So, that was your wife in the boat?

MH: Yes, in both films.

PK: Oh, really?

MH: Yes.

PK: How many times did you throw Naomi Watts off the boat?

MH: We were all a little bit nervous, and it was the first take. I mean, to fall back, it’s not so funny.

PK: This was her and not a double?

MH: Yes.

PK: How did you make sure she didn’t drown?

MH: There were safety boats around.

PK: Did she swallow a lot of water?

MH: You’ll have to ask her. [laughs] Well, she seemed happy afterwards. She saw the first film, so she knew what she had to do.

PK: So are these the only two films where your wife appears?

MH: No, she’s in many of my films. I always joke that she’s my Hitchcock. When I was young I did a TV film and because some extra didn’t work, I played the extra and the film wasn’t really good. So, from this moment I swore to never appear in the picture myself, so I always send my wife.

PK: It’s a little superstitious. Is it true that Wim Wenders walked out of “Funny Games,” or was it “Benny’s Video?”

MH: Yes, “Funny Games.”  At Cannes, yeah.

PK: Did you ever speak to him about that?

MH: He said in an interview that he just can’t stand that kind of violence.

PK: Was he morally offended?

MH: Well, I have no idea, maybe it was because it was the same year he did "The End of Violence"  and for maybe for him it was a little difficult because in his film there’s only talking about violence. That was his idea to handle this thing [violence] and so it was different..I don’t know, I haven’t spoken to him about it.

PK: I interviewed him around that time when "The End of Violence" was made and I think he had experienced a violent act; he and his wife were held at gunpoint or something.  So he must have been a little sensitive. I think I saw “The American Friend,” Wim Wenders film, on a marquee in “Who Was Edgar Allan?”

MH: Oh yes. Well, that’s because he has a lot of American friends. It was sort of a joke.

PK:Yeah, you’ve got to watch out for those American friends. Which leads me to another question: who is Edgar Allan?

MH: I don’t know. [laughs some more]

PK: Somehow, I expected that answer.

MH: Well, the question is the answer.





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