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The Provocative Cinema of Michael Haneke

Michael HanekeMichael Haneke 

Monday, October 1---------Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke is among the most celebrated and controversial figures in the world of contemporary world cinema. His films have been divisive and disturbing affairs that leaves audiences shaken and uncertain. He holds up a mirror to a world of extreme anxiety, offensive violence and a lack of human empathy. He has inspired amazing performances from his actors, leading many to win international awards. His cinema is ferocious, compelling and unforgettable.

Those wishing to track the amazing career of one of contemporary cinema's most incisive filmmakers will have an amazing opportunity to view the entire oeuvre of Haneke's work as New York's Museum of Modern Art presents a full retrospective starting this Wednesday. The series which includes eight of Haneke's celebrated theatrical features, as well as rojects done for television in the 1970s and 1980s, represents the most comprehensive exhibition of his work ever screened in North America. The series is an apt run-up to the October 26 release of FUNNY GAMES, the director's English-language remake of arguably his most provocative film, this time starring Naomi Watts and Michael Pitt. View the film trailer at:

Born in Germany in 1942, and raised in his current home of Austria, Haneke studied philosophy, psychology, and drama at the University of Vienna before becoming a screenwriter and director of opera, theater, and film.  Much of his early work in television was based on his own writing, or adapted from modernist and postmodern literature by Franz Kafka (THE CASTLE, 1997), Joseph Roth (THE REBELLION, 1993), Ingeborg Bachmann (THREE PATHS TO THE LAKE, 1976), Peter Rosei (WHO WAS EDGAR?, 1984), and others.  These revelatory works anticipate Haneke’s later work for the cinema, centering on the historical amnesia of Old Europe and its wartime past. The series begins with his multi-part television mini-series LEMMINGS, which examines Austrian society in the decade following World War II.

Haneke made his feature film debut in 1989 with THE SEVENTH CONTINENT, which served to trace the violent and bold style that would bloom in later years. Three years later, the controversial BENNY'S VIDEO put his name on the map. His biggest success came in 2001 with his most critically successful film, THE PIANO TEACHER. The film won the prestigious Grand Prix at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, as well as winning Best Actress and Best Actror prizes for its two leads, the legendary Isabelle Huppert and the hot newcomer Benoit Magimel.


Haneke has inspired masterful performances, particularly from his lead actresses. He has worked with Isabelle Huppert on two haunting films which will be screened in the series: THE PIANO TEACHER (2001) and THE TIME OF THE WOLF (2003). Another muse for the director is the Oscar winning French actress Juliette Binoche, who gave unforgettable performances in CODE UNKNOWN (2000) and CACHE (2005, for which Haneke won Best Director prizes at the Cannes Film Festival and the European Film Awards). 

Haneke's films, told with exquisite precision and in riveting detail, shock audiences out of their indifference to the suffering of others and challenge their unquestioning acceptance of perceived reality.  His themes center on alienation and social collapse, the fetishing of violence and the nature of individual responsibility and collective guilt. His tacit refusal to provide falsely comforting Hollywood endings has given him cinema a reputation as "rough going" and pessimistic. However, those prepared to look into the abyss of his chaotic world will find, among other things, the potential for hope and redemption and the whisper of a perhaps better outcome for the future.....if only the hard lessons can be learned and absorbed.

Michael Haneke will be present to introduce the screenings of CODE UNKNOWN on Saturday, October 13, at 8:30 p.m., and the screening of the original FUNNY GAMES on Monday, October 15, at 7:00 p.m. For complete information on the series, log on to the official website of the Museum of Modern Art at:

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor


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Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

The Ultimate Guide to the New York Film, Video and New Media Scene.

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