Michael Haneke: My Life is a 2009 documentary by Felix and Gero von Boehm. Some of the themes of the documentary overlap with another documentary about Haneke, 24 Documentaries Per Second, but Boehm’s film provides interesting insights into some actors’ opinion of Michael Haneke, including Susanne Lothar, who played in Haneke’s Funny Games among other movies, and Juliette Binoche, who played in Cache and several other Haneke movies.
Susanne Lothar on Michael Haneke
Susanne Lothar discusses the characteristic for Haneke ambivalence and postmodern approach towards the truth: “He doesn’t give any answers. That’s a painful honesty. Some questions have no answers.” Lothar’s comment is an accurate description of Games where the line between reality and fiction is intentionally blurred. The actress remembers not being able to watch Benny’s Video because of its disturbing themes and images.
The actor Burghart Klaussner, who worked with Haneke in The White Ribbon and also plays in Good Bye Lenin!, says he was not able to sit through the violent images of Funny Games either, and after he told Haneke about leaving the cinema, the director told him he would have probably walked out of Funny Games too.
The actress Isabelle Huppert, who plays in The Piano Teacher, remembers Haneke saying “My films are more difficult for the viewer to watch than they are for me and the actors to make.”
About Michael Haneke’s filmmaking style Lothar says:
His visual language is strictly formal. There’s nothing accidental in his films. He shoots for editing. He doesn’t shoot different versions and then choose one during editing. He has the film set out in his film, which is quite fascinating.[…] With Michael Haneke I was happy to take quite a few risks. I explored quite a few limits, not only visually, but also in the experiences I’m prepared to deal with for the role. I was able to do that because I trust him completely. And because I admire his incredible consistency.[…] He prepares very thoroughly over a long period. But he still retains an openness towards his actors during the shoot.
Juliette Binoche on Michael Haneke
Binoche’s comments about Haneke are surprisingly honest and personal, and suggest the two are probably good friends. The actress even calls him a “bastard” on camera when she remembers an occasion in which Haneke was complaining about French actors not studying their lines as good as German actors do. Interestingly enough, the German actor Ulrich Tukur remembers Haneke interrogating him to make sure he has learned his lines. Both actors seem to corroborate the image of Haneke as a control freak when it comes to directing.
Binoche, who also plays in Certified Copy, remembers watching Funny Games, Benny’s Video, and The Seventh Continent, after which she called Matilda (obviously a mutual acquaintance) and said she would like to work with Haneke. The director recalls the phone call from Binoche and says he agreed to work with her without having a movie in mind before eventually starring her in Code Unknown.
Remembering a screening of Cache when the audience was shocked by a scene and Haneke was obviously pleased about it, Binoche says:
As a filmmaker he experiences a great sense of achievement, pleasure, surprise, joy, when he’s in the middle of what he’s created. And I think he has a childlike desire to surprise.
Susie Haneke on Michael Heneke
Susie Haneke says whenever her husband is actively writing a script, he usually goes to the countryside to focus on the work. During the weekends she would go there and the director would proudly show her what he has written so far, usually about six pages.
Right after a scene on the set of The White Ribbon, in which Haneke seems to be giving orders to the film crew, the documentary My Life cuts to Susie Haneke who says “Just letting him do as he wants would be too much. He’d be quite a despot if he could get away with it.”
Christian Berger on Michael Haneke
Christian Berger is an Austrian cinematographer who has worked with Haneke on Benny’s Video, Cache, The White Ribbon, 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, The Piano Teacher, and Time of the Wolf. Berger teaches cinematography at the Vienna Film Academy, where Haneke leads the directing program.
Haneke’s precision requires a surrendering to him. […] This is his intensive challenge to everybody involved. It’s always aimed at exploring boundaries. With a different director I may not get close to these boundaries. But I hope the results show that in doing so we reach a space that conventional filmmaking and cinematic storytelling will never reach.
Michael Haneke growing up
Michael Haneke’s father was a theater director, and his mother was an actress. In the documentary “24 Realities per Second” the director says he has not been influenced by his father because he has only seen him a few times. Haneke grew up mainly with his aunt and spent most of his childhood in Wiener Neustadt, a small “bourgeois” town, as the director describes it. Haneke says he had a sheltered childhood. He says his parents tried to keep him away from the theater and cinema.
Michael Haneke on Violence
Violence is one of the recurring themes in Haneke’s movies. The director is noted for his off-screen depiction of violence where the camera does not directly show the violent scene. Discussing the reason for the existence of violence, the director says:
Of course we all know that violence primarily arises from fear. I’m afraid something might happen to me, so I perpetrate violence against others. The xenophobia around us, that’s a form of violence too. […] The unknown is frightening therefore we want to fend it off.[…] I think this is a great part of violence as well as our destructive urge. Whether we like it or not, we all have this urge. This urge is not legitimized by fear alone.
Haneke quotes Goethe and says that there is no crime he cannot imagine himself doing if he were in a trigger situation. About the depiction of violence he says:
I am terrified of physical violence. I can’t stand if I witness violence either. […] Why do people stop on the freeway if there’s an accident? The slow down and say ‘Look, a dead body’ or ‘Look, somebody’s injured.’ I am sure part of it is that you know there’s death next to you, in your presence without affecting you personally. […] I believe that fear drives a lot of artistic expression. The big issues of humanity in general that literature and sometimes also film deal with, are all issues related to fear.
Haneke on Happiness and Life
The director’s thoughts on happiness do not come as a surprise, as he describes happiness in a typically postmodern fashion—as difficult to pin down and fleeting. Haneke emphasizes the “moments” of happiness, as opposed to long-term constants.
I’m not really a happy person. It’s a question of temperament. I have a tendency towards melancholy. But you can be quite happy in your melancholy. [Translation from German by filmslie.com staff, slightly different from the original English subtitles.] It’s a double-edges sword. It has a certain irony. I think the word “happiness” should only be used with great care. You can use it to describe moments, perhaps. What is happiness? It’s elation. A positive feeling that suddenly jumps beyond merely feeling good. […] It’s a pointless question to ask yourself if you’re happy. […]
Haneke says he saves himself from unhappiness through his works and claims no one other than you can save you. Nevertheless, he admits “it would be harder without my wife. If you indulge yourself in unproductive, useless thoughts, it’s good if one’s daily life with another person challenges this indulgence.”
Discussing his outlook on life, Haneke says:
I may be bitter about certain things, but not disappointed. I still think life is very much worth living. I enjoy life very much. I really don’t suffer about the world around us. I suffer about the injustice that exists around us but in a way where even saying I suffer would almost be frivolous. […] But of course we suffer from the fundamental human condition. We suffer from the fact we have to die, that life won’t go on like this, that there is illness, old age. None of this is much fun. But it isn’t that bad either. […] I’m sometimes accused of being a pessimist. Pessimists are those who make films which dumb down the audience. Those people think it’s not worth it to deal with real issues. There’s a certain cynicism in getting people’s money by seeming to soothe them.
Watch the whole documentary My Life about Michael Haneke (German and French audio with English subtitles):