Entries tagged with “Michael Haneke”.


If anybody thought after seeing Amour and especially its ending that  turned to be a little bit softer towards its characters and show them some mercy, than his or her expectations will be definitely be contradicted by his most recent film ‘Happy End‘, which to many extends deals with the same theme – the end of the road that expects us all, death and how to cope with it.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5304464

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5304464

 

 

The high bourgeoisie class had already had its prime time in cinema.  is the first great director who comes to my mind, with his sharp and cynical visions in movies like ‘The Exterminating Angel‘ and ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie‘ . Their universe receives a deep and detailed description in this film, we are in the 21st century but the change seems to be more in technology rather than in morals, inner relations, or the way the upper classes relate to the world around – servants in the house, partners and employees in business, or the immigrants of different colors of skin who also populate the Europe of our times. The name of the film, ‘Happy End‘ may as well refer to the sunset of this social class or to the mercy killings of the old and suffering.

 

(video source Sony Pictures Classics)

 

We know from his previous films that is not concerned about breaking taboos. This film attacks several as well. Innocence of child is one of them, the young age being seen not that much as an ideal age, but rather as the period when seeds of evil are being sown. We have seen something similar in The White Ribbon. Respectability of the old age is another, and the character and interpretation of  is the proof. There is decency in his attitude, but it derives from a very different place than the usual convention. At some point it seems that the old Monsieur Laurent tells a story that happened to the character also played by in Amour. Themes are recurring, but what the attitude of the script writer and director is as non-conventional as ever. One new perspective in this film is the exposure to the Internet and to social networking. These play an important role in the story, part of the characters share their feelings and send their hidden messages in the apparent darkness of the digital networking. The sharp critic of the director towards the surrogates of human communication is evident, but he also borrows brilliantly the format of the smartphones screens and uses them to open and close his film.   ‘Happy End‘ is (almost) another masterpiece by .

Every age has it’s love films. A long time ago, during my late my teens I resonated together with the millions of young folks at my age in between the age of the hippies and the age of the yuppies to Erich Segal’s book Love Story and the film made by Arthur Hiller staring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neill. It was a sad story with two young people falling in love, getting married against the social conventions, then she falls sick, and she dies, nice music and a smart slogan that made my teen heart beat strongly (yes, I remember the girl I was with at that movie, where is she now?). Now I have seen Michael Haneke‘s Amour, probably the most awards-gatherer non-American movie of 2012, a superb film, and a very different love story. I resonated again, I was moved and even more than that, but if I am to chose which one of the two films I want to see again I will chose the older one. Actually, if I think well, Amour may be one of the rare films, maybe even the only one, I will give a grade of 10 at IMDB but I do not believe that I have the strength and in any case I do not have the will to see it again.

 

 

Michael Haneke is known for the  cold approach towards his stories and heroes, sometimes at the border of cruelty. He does not spare us the viewers in Amour either, telling us the story of an old and well established couple of musicians who are hit at the end of a life of love and shared experiences by the tragedy of the malady of the woman (Emmanuelle Riva) leading to the decay of her physical and mental health. No details are spared, and the painful and inevitable process made even more pressing by the fact that there is no improvement and no chance of recovery is described in quite a lot of rather explicit details. And yet, there is no overall sense of repulsion because all this process is dominated by the dedication of the husband, who dearly takes care of his wife although the woman she was mentally disappears with everyday that passes. Riva was a candidate for best actress at the Oscars (she did not win), but it’s Jean-Louis Trintignant‘s acting that impressed me most, because it’s not spectacular, but it conveys better than everything else in the film the message in the title. It takes a lot of courage for these two actors whose career was followed by the French and international audiences for almost half of century to face the camera in a film that deals with such bluntness with the theme of the disasters of aging. They took upon the challenge and the result is strong and moving.

 

(video source My Trailer is Rich)

 

The whole story takes place in the interior of a Parisian apartment, and it’s amazing to see how many interesting things can me made with the camera in these few rooms.  The fine acting however takes precedent and will hardly be forgotten by anybody who has seen this film. The relation between the aged couple, their shared experiences, their small conflicts, their tenderness are described in all their complexity, as well as the relation of the two with their daughter dominated not only by the gap between ages and generations, but also by the lack of power of the younger woman to help in face of the inevitable. There is one final decision, one final act of love to be made, we guess it from start, and when it comes nobody is surprised. A final scene shows the daughter entering the apartment now empty, which remained only an empty space gathering things reminding of the love that was. There is no happy end to this Love Story either.

The full title in German of the film is  ‘Das weisse Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte’ – ‘The White Ribbon – A German Children Story’ which could translate as ‘story for children’ or ‘story about children’. A story for children it certainly is not – Michael Haneke is the author of some of the most disturbing movies I have ever seen, and if there is some sense in age rating of movies, I would avoid showing his films to children under a certain age to protect them emotionally. It is a story about children, and the film can certainly be categorized in the genre of these horror stories where the Devil seems to be incarnated by innocence, and for sure a good one in the genre. Haneke knows how to create and maintain tension, how to film the real while suggesting the missing, how to pass the anxiety beyond the polish of civility. But the film tries to be much more.

The White Ribbon / Das Weisse Band

We are actually warned from start what the film is about. The story happens in the year prior to the first world war, in a rural area of Germany, where the social and moral system in place for centuries seems to have little chances to change. Peasants work the Baron’s fields and gardens, the priest and the Church defend the existing order and the morals, teacher and priests are not more than associates of the existing order. And yet strange things start to happen, some get obvious explanations in the human conflicts, other remain unsolved – accidents, deaths, violent deeds. As the story is told by the teacher of the village many years after the events we know exactly the location in time of the events, and we know that the storms of history will blow up the whole system and apparent tranquility of life soon. However, before war starts the life fabric seems to deteriorate from inside, the whole society and its institutions – church, medical practice, family fife – are deeply sick.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUj9gDtA9HQ

The thesis of Michael Haneke is not far from the one of the American author Norman Mailer in his book ‘The Castle in the Forest’ (I wrote about it in Romanian at http://updateslive.blogspot.com/2007/12/castle-in-forest-de-norman-mailer.html). As Mailer goes back into the ascendancy of Adolf Hitler trying to discover the roots of evil in his family life and sins of his ancestors, Haneke takes a more general approach and tries to discover the roots of Nazism in the internal conflicts, the puritanism, the unspoken dark secrets of the family life of a constrained society. Obsession with order and discipline, education by punishment and guilt, tight guarding of the appearances of morality without deeds being true to principles do not necessarily lead to the order and quietness that is aimed, but long term can generate quite in the contrary. In a society where speaking the truth and revealing the evil at small scale are less important than keeping appearances of social order the freedom is in danger the evil can develop at bigger scale.

All this is spoken in few words by the off-screen commentary of the village teacher who tells the story, but is not explicit in the cinema language of the film. The impact of the film would not have been that deep without the master cinematographic treatment that Haneke applies to the story. First the black and white image fits perfect the world that is being described, and not only because its a world still lit by gas lamps, but also because the lack of colors reminds the classic German expressionist films that caught in the epoch contemporary or soon after the action of the film takes place the same type of angst. Then the acting is simply amazing. Many of the important characters in the film are kids or teenagers, and Haneke had to do a rigorous selection to select his best actors. he succeeded at utmost, I have seldom seen such a range of kids characters, each of them different, human, true. They seem to belong to their time, and to live through the painful coming of age, which is their growth into maturity in a world which becomes ugly.The tension between the not so innocent childhood they are going through and the adult world that tries to educate them by oppressing their feelings, punishing and inflicting them a permanent state of guilt is well acted and described beyond words.

Haneke avoids to make a harsh judgment. The whole fabric of human relations is not dark, we do have a love story between the teacher and nanny and we do have the innocent gesture of a kid trying to provide consolation to his father by making him a present that is the most important thing in his universe, which say that even in the darkest times and circumstances there is still hope that a flame of humanity is kept alive.  He does not completely solve the mystery of everything that has happened on screen. As in real life some facts remained unexplained, and judgments, even historical judgments need not be fully radical, and and good that such it is.

More details and comments can be found at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1149362/. The film took the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year and is a candidate for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, with good chances to win the prize.