Tribeca Film Festival Review: Michael H - Profession: Director Will Thrill Haneke Die Hards
Witnessing the brutality, cruelty, and willful mutilations displayed within the works of German director Michael Haneke might make you wonder what kind of man would mastermind such movies as Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, and Amour. But if the questions you walk away with after watching his films are about Haneke, then--according to him--you're missing the point. A self-proclaimed "craftsman" who chose the vocation of filmmaking over music or butchery (both comparisons he himself draws), Haneke wants his films to confront the viewer with the "unpleasant truths" of humanity. "In reality," he tells us, "justice is usually not avenged. In realty, children and animals do die." Haneke believes it is his job to remind us of that to the best of his abilities. Focusing on him, he insists, is a way for the timid audience members to distance themselves from these "truths," and refuse to engage fully with his work.
Featuring intimate interviews from Haneke and actresses like Juliette Binoche (Cache), Béatrice Dalle (Time of the Wolf), and Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher), Michael H - Profession: Director presents an intriguing--though fawning--portrait of the director, despite his best efforts to take control of its narrative. An admitted "control freak" who bullies his actors, insisting on their line readings and precise determinations of their physical performance, Haneke cannot help but direct the doc's helmer too. He criticizes his long-time behind-the-scenes documentarian Yves Montmayeur's questions, pronouncing, "I don't want to answer questions that make me interpret myself!" This proclamation is made early on in the doc that barrels backwards from Amour to his first feature, 1989's The Seventh Continent, and sets up its central conflict: prying answers from a man who resents being considered a part of his movies' context.
Haneke die-hards will savor this doc for all its conflicting insights and revelatory behind-the-scenes footage. (Emmanuel Riva struggling to get a crucial scene in Amour just right is particularly enlightening.) But those who--like myself--must steel themselves before viewing any of Haneke's films will grasp for some deeper insight into why he commits the "horrid" things to screen that he does. Though you might expect it, there's no attempt to provide biographical information on Haneke before or after he moved into filmmaking, which seems a concession made to Haneke's demands. Then, the clips selected from his films pull no punches, offering some of the most traumatizing, which out of context are all the more disturbing.
For me, the film's most telling moments were when Haneke confesses that he channels his own fears and anxieties into his work, which is sometimes autobiographically inspired, as a form of therapeutic catharsis, and when he admits, "In cinema, the viewer is always the director's victim." Seeing the horrors of Cache, The Piano Teacher, and The White Ribbon unfold in conjunction with Haneke's tyrannical hold over his deeply specific vision, his fears are clear as are his desires to share or inflict them on his audience. And despite his protests that he should not be the focus of his films' conversation, this provocative doc suggests the two cannot be untangled.
Check out the trailer for Michael H - Profession: Director below, and click here to catch up on all of our Tribeca Film Festival coverage.
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