Breaking the silence in his documentary Michael H. Profession: Director Yves Montmayeur unpicks the Austrian director’s quest for violent truth and beauty.
Michael H. Profession: Director
Code Unknown by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers.
With an Oscar for Amour for Best Film Not In The English Language and a raft of gongs and trophies up his sleeve, including Palme d’Ors from Cannes for Amour and The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke is hot property. And bringing together location interviews, making-of footage and excerpts from his films, Yves Montmayeur has staged a brief encounter with the Austrian director in his made-for-TV documentary Michael H. Profession: Director. Travelling backwards through the director’s oeuvre, Montmayeur’s documentary attempts to uncode the elements behind Haneke’s hankering for onscreen violence and social awkwardness, extreme cinema and the obscene.
Opening with an excerpt from Benny’s Video, Montmayeur makes his intentions clear – a documentary to uncover Haneke’s use of violence, how we watch it and the awkward complicity between audience and filmmaker. Haneke is famously reticent about interpreting his films, so it’s not surprising that Montmayeur quickly rewinds to a less tight-lipped time of explanation. For the most part however, we see the director in action, performing for his actors by way of illustration and his fierce control over the image. He’s described by his actors as a genius, a grand master of the seventh art. And also as a despot, who rules the film set with an iron fist, precise but not exactly diplomatic, often glimpsed shrieking for quiet in fierce German.
Emmanuelle Riva may have been traumatised by making Amour with Haneke, but the director describes himself as a craftsman seeking only to convey the truth with none of the usual manipulative artifice of cinema. He’s a master of technique whose only creativity lies, or so he says, in sewing together connections. His “gift from God” is not to condescend to his audience, or proffer comfortingly unreal stories. Instead, the banal reality of evil in our midst, along with Haneke’s distancing devices – the monochrome of Das Weiße Band, the remote-control rewinding and talking-to-camera of Funny Games, and the film-within-a-film video screens of Hidden and Benny’s Video – continually remind us of our status as viewers, and warn us against emotional involvement. We are aware of our complicity in the action, willing consumers of violence whose fears and desires find a not-always-comforting reflection on Haneke’s silver screen.
Combining memory, reality and recordings, Haneke’s cinema destabilises a viewer’s confidence in the cinema reality, allowing him to explore society’s fears of conflict and suffering with astonishing punch. Isabelle Huppert, Juliette Binoche and Jean-Louis Trintignant all extol the Austrian director for his radical extreme cinema, combining the sublime beauty of music and the obscene (Austria’s refinement and psychological neuroses) at the same time. Béatrice Dalle gives Haneke credit for teaching her “immobile motion” acting, while Emmanuelle Riva praises the Austrian director for his cosseting of actors, instilling them with and preserving their fragile confidence. Haneke himself reveals his intention to find beauty in accuracy, even in exaggerated stories such as Le Temps Du Loup, by making it banal and believable. And all his films betray a bitter truth gained through experience and achieved through his acute ability to hear when something’s wrong.
Yves Montmayeur’s Michael H. Profession: Director disguises a wealth of information behind some fairly ordinary footage, like Haneke teaching students Chekhov at the Viennese Academy or rehearsing a hand-suffocating dream sequence from Amour. Moments of clarity are offered into Haneke’s sometimes opaque films, but as a documentary Montmayeur neither stages nor challenges the Haneke Weltanschauung. While Haneke painstakingly removes traces of a film’s genesis, flattening it to a smooth narrative the viewer has the freedom to interpret, Michael H. Profession: Director is by its very nature the antithesis – explanatory and instructive. But never has it been so welcome.
Michael H. Profession: Director is released on 15th March 2013 in the UK