A cinema of disturbance: the films of Michael Haneke in context
My films are intended as polemical statements against the American ‘barrel down’ cinema and its dis-empowerment of the spectator. They are an appeal for a cinema of insistent questions instead of false (because too quick) answers, for clarifying distance in place of violating closeness, for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus.
– Michael Haneke, “Film as Catharsis”
Michael Haneke is with good certainty both Austria’s most esteemed and most controversial active filmmaker. His feature Benny’s Video (1992) shocked crowds with its restrained, antipsychological portrait of a teenager who kills a young girl “to see how it is”. Funny Games (1997) inspired a fierce debate on how one can interrogate violence in film. On the whole, Haneke’s polemical filmic program attempts to lay bare the coldness of European society and challenge Hollywood’s blithe treatment of violence. His acknowledged influences include Kieslowski, Tarkovsky, Straub, Antonioni, Jon Jost, and above all Bresson. To date his greatest commercial success has been The Piano Teacher, which garnered three awards at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival and went on to become a hit in arthouse cinemas worldwide.
Born in 1942 in Munich, Michael Haneke grew up in the Lower Austrian city of Wiener Neustadt. He studied psychology, philosophy and theater at the University of Vienna and wrote film and literature reviews on the side. From 1967 to 1970 he worked as editor and dramaturg at the southern German television station Südwestfunk. It was in 1970 that Haneke began writing and directing films and (similar to most Austrian directors of his generation) his initial experiences behind the camera were projects for television. Haneke has also directed a number of stage productions (including Strindberg, Goethe, Bruckner, and Kleist) in Berlin, Munich and Vienna. His first film intended for cinematic release, The Seventh Continent, premiered in 1989.
Writers on filmmakers tend to plot a director’s career as a teleological historical narrative with a familiar literary pattern, in this way circumscribing his or her texts for the sake of a neat (if contrived) principle of organisation. In the case of Haneke, however, a director’s career arrived at a caesura not only marked by a change in artistic subject and emphasis, but also by a shift in geography, language, and source of economic support. In this sense, we can broadly divide Haneke’s career in two: (i) his initial feature films in the period 1988–1997, devastating critiques of Austrian society, funded predominantly by public Austrian funds, and (ii) his last three efforts, investigations of broader European problems, financed in coproductions with largely French monies, starring high-profile French actors. What follows will treat his Austrian productions with closer scrutiny, as his more recent films seem to represent a trend still coming into being.
This essay does not intend to generate all-inclusive generalisations or provide sweeping interpretations about the cinema of Michael Haneke. Instead, it aims to familiarise the reader with Haneke’s works, while at the same time offering theoretical perspectives with which one might better understand the films. These approaches, predominantly drawn from contemporary French thought, are glimpses or clues and not grand exegeses. In this way the essay functions like Haneke’s films, furnishing fragments and provoking critical thought, rather than presenting ready-made answers.
Welcome to surmodernité: The Seventh Continent
Not beautiful photography, not beautiful pictures, but rather necessary pictures, necessary photography.
– Robert Bresson
In the 1989 edition of Austrian Film, the Austrian Film Commission’s annual promotional booklet on the national film crop, Haneke describes The Seventh Continent, the first film of his “Vergletscherungs-Trilogie” (“glaciation trilogy”) (1) as follows:
The film is about the life of Georg, his wife Anna and their daughter Eva over a period of three years:
It is the story of a successful career,
it is the story of the price of conformity,
it is the story of mental short-sightedness,
it is a family story
it is the story of a lived consequence.
This laconic summary is in effect an accurate translation of the sparse film which premiered at Cannes 1989. The film takes place in a faceless and hopelessly defamiliarised Linz, the city rendered as a wasteland of industry, Autobahn, and row houses. The characters populating this world are similarly faceless, literally: Haneke avoids shots including faces, instead concentrating on close-ups of hands and objects. There is little “story” to speak of, or rather the film is narrated in such a clipped, disjointed, and non-linear manner that a satisfying summary is impossible: one is at a loss as to which elements or details should be mentioned before others. Father, mother, and daughter have all but stopped talking to each other. One day the daughter claims to be blind, although she isn’t. The mother’s brother comes for dinner and begins crying for an inexplicable reason. The father begins destroying the house and flushes piles of banknotes down the toilet. The family commits suicide. All of this without so much as any clue as to motive or any shred of psychological insight into the characters.
What to make of a film that reveals so little of itself? One might first turn to the director. In interviews, Haneke has in turn emphasised his intention to leave the work of interpretation to the spectator: “I try to make anti-psychological films with characters who are less characters than projection surfaces for the sensibilities of the viewer; blank spaces force the spectator to bring his own thoughts and feelings to the film. Because that is what makes the viewer open for the sensitivity of the character” (2). Haneke, in other words, goes to extremes in withholding information in order to compel the spectator to “think with” and “feel with” the film, instead of simply consuming it.
Another useful source for understanding The Seventh Continent and Haneke’s stark dramaturgy is the social theorist Marc Augé. Augé investigates what form of obligation we encounter in the anonymous “non-places” of modern urban space: hotel rooms, supermarkets, ATM machines and various spaces of transition and passage – like the conveyor belts that drag passengers slowly from one section of the airport to another. Augé’s argument is that although we don’t ‘rest’ or ‘reside’ in these spaces but merely pass through them as if interchangeable, we nevertheless enjoy a contractual relation with the world and others symbolised by our train or plane ticket, bank card, email address, and hence anonymity and identity are oddly drawn close. Augé infers from such spaces a paradox of what he calls surmodernité, roughly translatable as “supermodernity” or “hypermodernity. In his own words:
If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place…supermodernity produces non-places, meaning spaces which are not themselves anthropological places and which, unlike Baudelairean modernity, do not integrate the earlier places: instead these are listed, classified, promoted to the status of “places of memory,” and assigned to a circumscribed and specific position (3).
For Augé supermodernity functions as an aggregate effect of three (paradoxical) superabundances: (i) we experience a superabundance of time and history: there are too many events going on and too much news and information about them, and yet (or therefore) we find ourselves semiotically overloaded and unable to make sense of the past and experience the relation of the past to the future in terms of an eternal disappointment (with socialism, communism, etc.), (ii) we experience an increasing sense of the vastness of the spaces we inhabit as these spaces expand and interpenetrate each other, and yet at the same time our urban spaces are increasingly homogenised and increasingly filled up, and (iii) we experience a simultaneous excess and deficiency of personal identity such that we have more and more ways of differentiating ourselves from others and identifying ourselves (driver’s license, passport, ATM card, identity cards) while at the same time personal identities become increasingly rigidified and formally interchangeable (everyone has same cards, same differentiators).
This is the diegetic world of The Seventh Continent: supermarket checkout counters and credit cards, car washes and automatic garage doors; as Amos Vogel describes the film, “anonymity, coldness, alienation amidst a surfeit of commodities and comfort” (4). The characters wander aimlessly and seemingly without motivation between Augé’s anonymous “transit points” and “temporary abodes: espace quelconque”. The family could be anywhere, on any seventh continent, most important (and most alienating and destructive) is the dialectic between anonymity and identity.
From Oedipus to Narcissus: Benny’s Video
The digital Narcissus replaces the triangular Oedipus…the clone will henceforth be your guardian angel…consequently you will never be alone again.
– Jean Baudrillard (5)
The second part of Haneke’s “glaciation trilogy” begins with a buzz and a bang: the white noise of a television screen snow shower and then the bang of a pig being shot on the subsequent home video. Benny’s Video is the most accessible film of the trilogy, but still never departs from Haneke’s powerful concoction of brutal images and laconic montage. Benny is a neglected son of rich parents in Vienna. He spends his days and nights in his room lost in a cobweb of video equipment, cameras, monitors and editing consoles. He keeps his shades drawn at all times and experiences the outside world mediated through the camcorders he has set up outside his windows. He obsessively reviews the farmyard killing of a pig in forward and reverse, slow motion and freeze-frame. Intermittently, he flips through channels full of news on neo-nazi killings, toy commercials, war films and reports on the incipient war in Yugoslavia. One day he meets a girl at the video store and invites her back to his empty house. He shows her the stun-gun used to kill the pig and shoots her with it. The girl’s death is shot visually out of the camera’s frame although the audience is privy to excruciating minutes of screams and whimpers. In the end, Benny foils his parents’ perversely cynical attempt to cover up the murder.
There are a host of potential theoretical thrusts available in connection with this film, from Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle” to the media theories of Paul Virilo to Deleuze’s connection between communication and capital. I have dealt with these approaches in depth elsewhere (6). Instead, the assertion above by Jean Baudrillard will be the focus of a reading of the film.
Commentators on Benny’s Video nearly unanimously cite Benny’s murder of the nameless girl he meets at the video store to be the key scene in the film. Like the two other panels in Haneke’s triptych (the family’s suicide at the conclusion of The Seventh Continent and when the student runs amok at the end of 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance), a murder serves as the focal point of Benny’s Video. This moment is the nexus for the critics’ respective agendas – moral/theological issues, formal concerns (Haneke’s denial of unmediated visual access to the murder), violence in film etc. As important as this scene is, however, what this scene isn’t or what this scene displaces is equally as important.
Of the three films in the trilogy, Benny’s Video is the most aesthetically and formally conventional. Thus, for example, when Benny brings the girl back to his place after meeting her at the video store, the spectator expects (both by conditioning via traditional cinematic narratives as well as through the way Haneke conventionally stages the meeting) a sexual encounter: boy meets girl, girl meets boy, boy kisses girl… Instead, in this film, boy meets girl, boy kills girl. What should be Benny’s first sexual experience becomes a violent act that he records and ritually rehashes. A sexual act first comes after the violent one in an auto-erotic spectacle, Benny strips naked and observes himself in the mirror, smearing himself with the girl’s blood (7).
This scene might be seen as the cinematic confirmation of the Baudrillard quotation above: in the postmodern moment the myth of Narcissus is now the guiding myth/trajectory/paradigm that structures experience and narrative, rather than the Oedipus initiation story. This is sealed when Benny rearranges the girl’s shirt so that she is “properly” covered, a lack of curiosity that further distances him from normative heterosexuality. If the Oedipal myth in its various hetero- and homoerotic forms functions to reproduce the idea that human subjectivity is sexually realised in the bonded, love relationship, then the Baudrillardian Narcissus myth as found in Benny’s Video instructs Benny that mediated, digitally manipulable violence is the “authentic” experience in a “me” world without connections, so why not “see how it is”? Benny comes of age not through sexual conquest and replacing a mother figure (8) but rather by eliminating/killing the potential object of desire and distancing himself into the cave/care of video equipment, over which he commands absolute control (9).
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance
The question isn’t “how do I show violence?” but rather “how do I show the spectator his position vis-à-vis violence and its representation?”
– Michael Haneke
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994) reads like a structuralist exegesis straight from Roland Barthes’ S/Z. The final installment of the “glaciation trilogy” transforms the (true) story of an Austrian university student who one day runs amok into 71 discrete scenes. The project of chronicling the causes for a killing spree as well as the preceding events in the lives of the victims would seem almost necessarily melodramatic and pathetic. Haneke, however, renders the story refreshingly unpsychological. The spectator is treated to snapshots like four minutes of the future “killer” playing table tennis alone or a later victim silently watching the evening news. These 71 moments, remarkable only in their unremarkability, form a system that implicates an entire form of society for the crime of one. As always, Haneke’s static camera captures the happenings from an icy distance.
71 Fragments marks a departure from the longitudinal studies of a single family as seen in the first two parts of the trilogy. The violent outburst is instead contextualised within a cross-section of society: a lonely father, a couple in a dysfunctional relationship, a woman who wants to adopt a child, a Romanian immigrant. The film is moreover a preview of coming attractions, particularly in Haneke’s attention to non-Austrian people and cultures, specifically to the former Yugoslavia. This “foreigner thematic” reappears in Code Unknown and The Time of the Wolf. 71 Fragments indicates the beginning of Haneke’s transition: he is no longer solely an Austrian director, but a European director as well.
Funny Games: The Aesthetics of Violence, The Politics of Self-Referentiality
I try to give back to violence that what it truly is: pain, injury to another.
– Michael Haneke
Funny Games is in a sense an epilogue to Haneke’s glaciation trilogy: this film, like the others that precede it, conducts an investigation of violence and spectatorship. This time around, however, the subject is more a confrontation with the shape of popular film and cinematic genre, rather than a statement on contemporary Austrian society.
The plot of the film is terrifyingly simple. A wealthy Austrian family of father, mother and son (plus dog) go on vacation to their lakeside summer house. Two well-groomed young men arrive clad in golf gear and ask to borrow some eggs. The two then proceed, without any motive, to terrorise and then kill dog, son, father, and mother.
Funny Games turns Cape Fear on its head; it is an anti-thriller. The threat to family bliss comes from within the upper class, rather than from a rogue element at the edge of society. Innocent children and animals are savagely offed in the very beginning stages of the film. The violence, moreover, is never really shown, but rather indicated in the soundtrack or recorded in the faces of the killers or other family members. Haneke focuses instead on the effects on the victims, revealed for example in a several minute-long shot of the father attempting to stand up. Finally, there is no rescue sequence, revenge scenario, or happy ending to the story – the last shots show the two killers ready to strike the next vacation spot.
In the many interviews of Michael Haneke, perhaps the question that seems to be posed most often is: “Do you enjoy disturbing the audience?” In Funny Games there is certainly a surfeit of violence, enough to shake even the most jaded viewers (and which prompted scores of spectators, including Wim Wenders, to walk out of the screening at Cannes in 1997). In addition, Haneke employs a number of self-referential devices to, as the director once said, “rape the spectator to independence.” Halfway through the film, for instance, one killer winks into the camera and subsequently asks the viewer, “what would you bet that this family is dead by nine o’clock tomorrow?” The film thus plays with the spectator just as the young men play their “funny game” with the family. The killer Paul later explains why he can’t possibly stop his abuse: “we’re still under the length of a proper feature film.” The ironic self-referentiality reaches its apex when a character actually rewinds the film. When the mother manages to grab a gun and shoot Paul’s accomplice, Paul grabs a remote control and rewinds the scene, thus securing control over the film’s outcome.
Funny Games‘ denial of visual access to acts of violence bespeaks central aspects of Michael Haneke’s filmic program. Haneke’s views on representing violence and his concomitant spectatorship theory are well documented in numerous interviews as well as his own essays (“Film als Katharsis”, “Violence and Media”, “Schrecken und Utopie der Form: Bressons Au hasard Balthazar”). There are striking parallels in Haneke’s logic in reference to his favourite themes of violence, media and spectatorship, with argumentation in history/memory/trauma theory. For example, Haneke’s philosophy draws on Holocaust depiction theory (such as that formulated by Claude Lanzmann) in that he makes films about violence without showing it (i.e. Bilderverbot), or more precisely, Haneke thematises the representation of violence in the way that he denies the spectator his/her presumed visual access to the violence. Similar to Lanzmann, Haneke’s provocative filmic program is an attempt at corrective to Hollywood’s glorified treatment of violence (or in Lanzmann’s case, the sentimentalised and psychologised version of the Holocaust as found in the mini-series Holocaust or later in Schindler’s List): Haneke concentrates on the suffering of victims, rather than allowing the spectator to identify with any pseudopsychological motivation of the perpetrator; he uses a slow tempo in montage and camera to allow audience a distanced “thinking space”; he challenges the action film’s practice of selling violence as a consumer good (i.e. violence as spectacle, dramaturgy); and again finally, Haneke resists visually depicting acts of physical violence. In this way, Haneke attempts to discuss violence without inciting fascination or titillation for his subject. Whether Haneke succeeds in this last crucial point has filled the feuilleton pages of newspapers across Europe and abroad. Some have praised Haneke in his formal daring; others have scathingly criticised him for excessive didacticism and depicting violence in essence no differently than in action films.
A final note on Funny Games should point out the connection between the film and its Austrian contemporaries. A wave of ironic and often self-referential “black comedies” appeared in Austria in the late 1990s and the first few years of this century. Funny Games should therefore also be seen in the context of films like Die totale Therapie (Christian Frosch, 1996), Die Gottesanbeterin (Paul Harather, 2000), Komm, süßer Tod (Wolfgang Murnberger, 2000), and Der Überfall (Florian Flicker, 2000)and their typically Austrian mix of comedy, violence, and irony.
Michael Haneke’s French Films and the Future of his European Filmmaking
That does not mean that I will never work in Austria again. But given the not exactly rosy financial working situation in my country it is naturally comforting to be able to fall back on foreign options.
– Michael Haneke
After the release of Funny Games, Haneke set to work on a project called Wolfszeit (The Time of the Wolf), a film he had written before Benny’s Video but then shelved. The second time around Haneke fared no better – the financing ultimately collapsed at the last minute and Haneke found himself at a dead end in his career, ironically just after scoring his then biggest hit, Funny Games. It was at that time that the “miracle” happened, as Haneke terms it. Juliette Binoche called him up out of the blue and asked if he would shoot a film with her in France. The result was Code Unknown, which had its debut in competition at Cannes 2000.
In an interview with the Stuttgarter Zeitung from 8 February 2001 Haneke revealed that if “Funny Games was the conclusion of my Civil War trilogy, Code Unknown could be given the heading of ‘World War.’” With Code Unknown, Haneke’s searing vision ceased to be confined only to Austria and concerns in the “Alpine Republic”. The film’s form takes a cue from 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance in that it offers 27 vaguely connected scenes from the varying perspectives of an actress, an African immigrant, and a war reporter from Bosnia. Code Unknown, however, lacks the violent teleology of 71 Fragments; there is no ‘big bang’ act of violence at the end. Instead Haneke concentrates on perhaps more quotidian, but none less pressing, problems: the new waves of immigration in Europe or the difficulty of interpersonal communication, be it between a couple in a relationship or between cultures.
Code Unknown represents a different cinematic experience from Haneke’s earlier features. Haneke had previously used a few actors recognisable to German cinephiles, for instance Angela Winkler or Ulrich Mühe. Still, even they were employed in rather restrained and “anonymous” roles, in keeping with Haneke’s philosophy that characters should only be surfaces onto which the audience should project their own emotions and thoughts. The acting firepower and pure expectations that an international superstar like Juliette Binoche brings to Code Unknown (not to mention Isabelle Huppert to The Piano Teacher and The Time of the Wolf) in some sense at least tempers the audience’s ability to project anything onto a figure laden with so many associations. Haneke had always sought to position himself as the opposite of Tarantino, as the “last Modernist” whose bare, deliberate cinema treated violence and media with a non-titillating distance without the illusionist chicanery of Tarantino’s multilayered association project. In this way, Haneke’s “French Films” appear to dilute the ferocious theoretical precision of the “glaciation theory” at the same time that they broaden their thematic attack.
Nevertheless, Haneke’s penchant for making the spectator feel uncomfortable remains intact throughout, if by other means. In Code Unknown, for instance, one watches Juliette Binoche become hysterically upset when a child nearly falls from a tall apartment building. Suddenly we hear her laugh from off screen: the whole sequence was taking place at a sound studio where Binoche was synchronising her voice for the soundtrack of a film she had appeared in. Sequences like this keep the viewer on his/her toes and questioning the verity of the images he or she sees.
In interviews at Cannes 2000, Haneke addressed the difficulties of transferring an Elfriede Jelinek piece to the screen. “The hard part about The Piano Teacher,” he foresaw, “is to make an obscene film but not a pornographic one.” The following year Haneke returned to Cannes with the finished adaptation and left with three major awards: the Cannes jury, at least, found not a porno flick but rather a magnum opus at hand. Haneke brings Jelinek’s story of a virtuoso piano teacher and her sadomasochistic, voyeuristic sexuality into the present time and into the French language (although still staged in Vienna). Typically Haneke, the protagonist’s extraordinarily odd behavior (e.g. permanently scarring her student’s playing hands, seducing her own mother, genital self-mutilation) is never explained or justified in any psychological way. Wildly explicit and violent rape and bondage scenes are as ever rendered disturbing and not titillating.
Although not necessarily his richest film, The Piano Teacher was the final reminder to the unconverted that Michael Haneke could no longer be ignored as a major player in European cinema, and accordingly many channels of funding (above all in France) became options for Haneke. In 2003 his follow-up film The Time of the Wolf debuted out of competition at Cannes. The Time of the Wolf represents the shelved Wolfszeit project from Haneke’s pre-Code Unknown days. The film is an apocalyptic Sci-fi. The point of departure recalls Haneke’s Austrian features: a family, a couple with two children, drives to their vacation house and begins to unload the car. Once inside the house they find another family, who apparently had been squatting in the home. Without warning or explanation, the squatter-father shoots his counterpart and the mother and two children find themselves alone in the wilderness. Haneke treats the viewer to the negative power of the human will to survive. The critical appraisal of the film has been mixed. Some (apparently including the Cannes selection committee, which placed it in the out of competition category) have claimed it to be somewhat disappointing, that it returns to themes that Haneke treated better before. Others have opined that it was an overlooked masterpiece at the festival.
Whatever the reception The Time of the Wolf enjoys in its general release, Michael Haneke is unlikely to become more accommodating or less polemical in his treatment of contemporary society. Critics have alternately called his films both overly intellectual and heavy as well as exploitative and unwittingly sensationalist. The schizophrenic reactions of pundits, all seemingly annoyed with one aspect of Haneke’s works or another, seem in fact to affirm the impetus behind Michael Haneke’s cinema of disturbance.
The Seventh Continent (Der siebente Kontinent) (1988)
Benny’s Video (1992)
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls) (1994)
Funny Games (1997)
Code Unknown (Code Inconnu) (2000)
The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste) (2001)
The Time of the Wolf (Le Temps du loup) (2003)
Hidden (Caché) (2005)
. . .Und was kommt danach? (And what comes afterwards?) (1973)
After Liverpool (1974)
Sperrmüll (Household Rubbish) (1976)
Drei Wege zum See (Three Ways to the Sea) (1976)
Lemminge (Lemmings) (1979)
Variationen (Variations) (1983)
Wer war Edgar Allen? (Who was Edgar Allen?) (1984)
Fraulein (Miss) (1985)
Nachruf für einen Mörder (Obituary for a Murderer) (1991)
Die Rebellion (The Rebellion) (1992)
Lumière et Compagnie (1995) one episode in omnibus film
Das Schloß (The Castle) (1997) although commissioned by and debuting on the French-German television channel Arte, Das Schloß also enjoyed a later cinematic release
Marc Augé, Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, trans. John Howe, London, Verso, 1995.
Jean Baudrillard, De la seduction, Paris, Denoel-Gonthier, 1979.
Jean Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, St. Louis, Telos, 1981.
Peter Canning, “The Imagination of Immanence: An Ethics of Cinema” in Gregory Flaxman (ed.), The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema, Minneapolis, University of Minneapolis Press, 2000, pp. 327–362.
Gilles Deleuze, The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Hebberjam, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1989.
Norman K. Denzin, The Cinematic Society: The Voyeur’s Gaze, London, Sage, 1995.
Norman K. Denzin, Images of Postmodern Society: Social Theory and Contemporary Cinema, London, Sage, 1991.
Wolf Donner, “Das Gegenteil von Hollywood”, Tip, no. 12, 1993, pp. 35–39.
Richard Falcon, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”, Sight and Sound, May 1998, pp. 10–12.
Michael Haneke, “Film als Katharsis” in Francesco Bono(ed.), Austria (in)felix: zum österreichischem Film der 80er Jahre, Graz, Blimp, 1992, p. 89.
Michael Haneke, “Violence and Media” in Gerhard Larchner, Franz Grabner, and Christian Wessely (eds), Visible Violence: sichtbare und verschleierte Gewalt im Film, Münster, Lit, 1998, pp. 93–98.
Alexander Horwath, (ed.) Michael Haneke und seine Filme, Vienna, Europaverlag, 1991.
Alexander Horwath and Giovanni Spagnoletti (eds), Michael Haneke, Turin, Lindau, 1998.
Herbert Hrachovec, “Heimelektronik und Heimnachteil: Michael Hanekes Benny’s Video” in Gottfried Schlemmer (ed.), Der neue österreichische Film, Vienna, Wespennest, 1996, pp. 286–299.
Frank Pillip, “Michael Haneke’s Film Funny Games and the Hollywood Tradition of Self-Referentiality”, Modern Austrian Literature, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 353–363.
Karl Suppan, “Die Ästhetik der Gewalt in Hanekes Bennys Video” in Gerhard Larchner, Franz Grabner, and Christian Wessely (eds), Visible Violence: sichtbare und verschleierte Gewalt im Film, Münster, Lit, 1998, pp. 85–92.
Karl Suppan, “Der wahre Horror liegt im Blick: Michael Hanekes Ästhetik der Gewalt” in Franz Grabner, Gerhard Larcher, Christian Wessely (eds), Utopie und Fragment: Michael Hanekes Filmwerk, Thaur, Kulturverlag, 1996, pp. 81–98.
Amos Vogel, “Of Nonexisting Continents: The Cinema of Michael Haneke”, Film Comment, vol. 32, no. 4, July–August 1996, pp. 73–75.
Christian Wessely, “Virtualität und Realität” in Franz Grabner, Gerhard Larcher, Christian Wessely (eds), Utopie und Fragment: Michael Hanekes Filmwerk, Thaur, Kulturverlag, 1996, pp. 99–124.
Articles in Senses of Cinema
Do the Right Thing: The Films of Michael Haneke by Maximilian Le Cain
Between Action and Repression: The Piano Teacher by Nina Hutchison
Code inconnu: Récit incomplete de divers voyages by Darragh O’Donohue
Funny Games by Chris Justice
The Seventh Continent by Christopher Sharrett
The Time of the Wolf by Bill Blick
Film Directors – Articles on the Internet
Several online articles can be found here.
Acquarello reviews The Seventh Continent and Code Unknown.
Central Europe Review
An article on Code Unknown.
A dissertation situating Benny’s Video within the context of contemporary French thought. You will need Acrobat Reader to view this.
Haneke films can be purchased here.
Click here to search for Michael Haneke DVDs, videos and books at
- The three films received the name from Haneke’s assertion that they are “reports of the progression of the emotional glaciation of my country.” See Michael Haneke, “Film als Katharsis” in Francesco Bono (ed.), Austria (in)felix: zum österreichischem Film der 80er Jahre, Graz, Blimp, 1992, p. 89.
- Wolf Donner, “Das Gegenteil von Hollywood”, Tip, no. 12, 1993, p. 35.
- Marc Augé, Non-places. Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, trans. John Howe, London, Verso, 1995, pp. 77–8.
- Amos Vogel, “Of Nonexisting Continents: The Cinema of Michael Haneke”, Film Comment, vol. 32, no. 4, July–August 1996, p. 74.
- Jean Baudrillard, De la seduction, Paris, Denoel-Gonthier, 1979, p. 235.
- Mattias Frey, “Supermodernity, Capital, and Narcissus: The French Connection to Michael Haneke’s Benny’s Video,” cinetext, October 2002, http://cinetext.philo.at/magazine/frey/bennysvideo.html
- There is a real temptation to read this scene as a very Lacanian moment. I would be quick to interject, however, that there is not even a misrecognition in Benny’s gaze, nor any sort of recognition: Benny is so semiotically impotent/incapacitated, he lacks even the potential of subjectivity. I see his bodily inscriptions as another futile attempt at communication.
- Those looking for an Oedipal trajectory here can find one: only in reverse. After the murder, Benny and his mother are the couple in the film (especially in Egypt and especially as Benny videotapes his mother urinating) i.e. the girl is eliminated so that Benny’s desire can be displaced to the mother who he previously showed little care for.
- A useful exercise might be to compare Benny to the teenager in American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999), a character whose verisimilitude vis-à-vis Benny suggests either a rather generous case of borrowing by Mendes or proves Baudrillard true in his thoughts on the ubiquity of this situation, etc. In that film, the teenager is a drug dealer, an obsessive voyeur who records everything on video, and lives in an oppressive/dysfunctional family situation. The crucial difference is that he strives for the heterosexual coupling he finds with the neighbour’s daughter. Benny, in contrast, kills the analogous character.