Cinema doesn’t have many provocateurs more worthy of the title than Michael Haneke. The Austrian’s films, which date back to 1989’s The seventh continent, though varying in scope and accessibility, share a common attribute: they invite neither casual viewing nor critical fence-sitting. This book, a collection of academic essays which cover the entirity of Haneke’s body of work, is a fitting companion to his oevre.
Brigette Peucker’s “Games Haneke Plays” is a fitting introduction to the first section, “Violence and Play”, covering to varying extents all of the director’s films. It’s an illuminating essay that looks broadly at the role of violence across Haneke’s body of work. “Haneke’s ‘Funny’ Games with the Audience”, by Tarja Laine concentrates on the controversial Funny games, looking at the way the director manipulates the viewer with his playfully postmodern film.
The second part “Style and medium” is a more in-depth look at the techniques and motivations of the director, a choice essay being Mattias Frey’s “The message and the medium”, which sees Haneke’s work through the director’s published film theory, starting by looking at the way the director’s radically conservative views on violence in cinema – as set out in the essay “Violence and Media” informed his early “Glacation Trilogy” (though Haneke himself would later disown this collective term) of Austrian films (The seventh continent, Benny’s video and 71 fragments of a chronology of chance). It’s a fascinating essay that delves into Haneke’s mindset and influences, with biographical accounts of the director’s formative experiences with cinema (for example, emerging from a theatre in tears after seeing an adaptation of Hamlet) that belie the impression of distance and iciness the director’s output and provocative statements can sometimes create.
“Culture and Conflict” is the final part of the collection, consisting of essays which put Haneke’s films into a wider cultural context. Highlights include “The functionary of mankind” by Rosalind Galt, which uses Haneke’s statement that a European director is unable to make a genre film to ignite a discussion of how Europe informs and is dealt with by Haneke’s work, giving special attention to the acclaimed mid-period trio of Code unknown, Time of the wolf and Cache. The section finishes on a fascinating essay (“When forgetting is remembering” by Patrick Crowley) centred on the parallels between the latter film – which deals partly with racial prejudice in France – and the 1961 massacre of 200 Algerians in Paris.
There are many directors for whom a 290-page collected work would be overkill, for Michael Haneke, however, whose endlessly interpretable, intellectually forceful body of work will produce countless interpretations, it just about does justice. A definitive guide to Europe’s foremost provocateur.