With Amour almost about to bow in the United States, I thought it time to start talking about one of cinema’s treasures: Michael Haneke. Like all great artists, the moment the world seems to finally catch up with Haneke, he pulls another rabbit out of his hat and transforms again.
First it was Cache (his first relatively mainstream American presence) and its stripped-down magic trick of forcing us to consider the cinematic lens as an intrusive object to be feared as much as forgotten. Unlike most American filmmakers, Haneke comes from the school that believes the process of what’s behind the camera is as important as what’s being manufactured in front of it. Then it was the American version of Funny Games, his confrontational and dubious remake of his own previous effort. The creation of this shot-for-shot remake, fit with an argumentative tone, seems like one Gordian knot of social commentary towards the contemporary Hollywood picture. As though he wants to laugh in our faces by remaking himself. Many critics, including Roger Ebert, seemed onto the trick and found it condescending. Next, Haneke went to Black & White and more cryptic than ever with The White Ribbon. He’s always been compelled by getting at the root of humanity’s love for violence. In The White Ribbon, he crafted a tale that asks if evil is inherent or something born out of the nurture of children.
Now, Haneke’s newest film, Amour (the second straight Palm D’Or winner for the filmmaker) takes on the process of aging and the nature of love. The film has garnered tremendous reviews from critics who applaud it as a superlatively acted, tender portrait of love in the face of impending death. From the looks of it, Haneke is confronting the theme of mortality. Something that has always been on the periphery of his work. Only this time, instead of coming from an angle of cynicism, he’s taking it on with a glimmer of hope.
Here’s a great interview David Poland conducted with Haneke after Amour’s premiere:
Austria’s official Oscar submission, Amour has been mentioned in the conversation for other awards as well. Most people are specifically hanging their hats on Emmanuelle Riva’s acting. There’s a piece of me that wants to believe Hollywood has caught up to Haneke, but in some respects I think that’s nearly impossible. By the nature of being an artist tackling difficult themes, Haneke’s films take more time than an opening-weekend-box-office-obsessed psyche allows.
I’m always excited to try and unwrap whatever intellectual surprises Haneke will have pack into his dense films. Sometimes creators like him can seem to be dangling a carrot in front of his avid fans. When you think you’ve finally caught up to what he’s doing, he pulls the carrot even further back than ever. Amour’s change of tone has me interested as can be. Perhaps because I like chasing the carrot.