Michael Haneke studied philosophy at the University of Wien (Vienna).
His pessimistic, lugubrious existentialist philosophy, centered around the
theme of "emotional glaciation", permeates his films.
Haneke debuted with
Der Siebente Kontinent/ The Seventh Continent (1989),
the first installment of his "emotional glaciation" trilogy,
whose protagonists are incapable of emotions.
The first part of the film depicts their emotion-less daily routine.
The last part depicts their emotion-less suicide.
It is not an impulsive suicide but a very slow ritual of self-destruction,
almost a metaphor for the self-destruction that has been going on all those
years of senseless routine.
The story is minimalist to the extreme, not only in the plot but also in
the visual aspect.
The camera ignores the faces of the couple, and instead indulges on inanimate
objects such as a door bell, a bowl of cereal, an alarm clock, the windshield
of the car.
Inspiration comes from Antonioni's poems of alienation,
Robert Bresson's ascetic cinema,
Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.
The first scene is about an average middle-class family as they wake up
and assemble for breakfast: it's a perfectly normal scene, but it is made
unusual and ominous by the fact that the camera does not show us their faces.
The woman, Anna,
writes a lengthy letter to her in-laws. It is mostly good news: her brother
Alex has recovered from a nervous breakdown, her daughter Eva has not had an asthma
attack in a while, her husband Georg has been promoted and she inherited some money
when her mother died.
At school the girl pretends to be blind, but the teacher outsmarts her.
It is not a coincidence: her mother is an eye doctor (we see an excruciating
analysis of an elderly woman's eyesight through the lenses of a machine).
When the couple goes shopping at the end of the workday, we still see no face.
We see lots of details
(even the shoe on the accelerator pedal when the car starts) and
other people's faces, but not the faces of the protagonists.
We finally see them when they sit at the table for dinner: Anna, Georg,
Alex and Eva. During the dinner Alex breaks into tears: obviously he hasn't
The then story repeats itself. One year has gone by, but the routine is
the same, from the alarm clock to the drive downtown.
Anna writers another letter full of good news to her in-laws, mentioning
that Georg has taken the place of his boss and that her brother has gone back
to work in earnest and seems to be normal again. We see her husband at work in his new
position as the boss of the department when the old boss comes to pick up his
belongings. There is unspoken cruelty in the coldness with which the old boss
is treated in what used to be his kingdom.
One rainy night the family is driving to a car wash and has to slow down
because the police are clearing a car accident. They drive slowly by the
dead bodies already covered with tarp.
Then they drive to an automatic car wash without uttering a word.
As the car rolls through the various washing stages, Anna starts crying and sobbing.
After a visit to his parents, Georg writes them a letter to tell them what he
didn't tell them in person: he has quit his job, and his wife left her lab
to her brother.
They buy axe, scissors, saw, etc: lots of tools as if they were going to
remodel the house.
They withdraw all their money and tell the bank clerk that they are moving to Australia (inspired by the billboard outside the car wash that advertises Australia as a tourist destination)
Anna calls the teacher to inform her that her daughter will not be going
Georg writes a letter to his parents explaining why they have taken the
drastic decision they have taken, and why they decided to take Eva with them.
They calmly eat a meal. They seem to be smiling a bit, which is unusual.
The telephone rings. Georg unhooks it so it won't ring again.
The man begins to methodically tear all their clothes with the scissors.
Then takes a hammer and a saw and begins to demolish furniture, including
the fish tank. The girl cries scared seeing the fish agonize on the floor,
but her mom calms her down. Then they flush their money down the toilet.
Then they poison the girl. The mom cries of her dead body. Then it's the
turn of the mom. Then the man writes on the wall the exact date and time
when they died. Then he drinks his poison. Then he lies down next to his
wife and his daughter watching tv. We see fragments of his life flash by.
Benny's Video (1992)
71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls/ 71 Fragments in a Chronology of Chance (1994)
After an adaptation of Kafka's Das Schloss/ The Castle (1995),
Funny Games (1997) is a brutal fresco of mindless sadistic adolescent
violence (two kids torture a family) a` la Kubrick's Clockwork Orange.
and Wenders's The End of Violence, but without any major physical violence,
enhanced with Pirandellian and Becket-ian actor self-consciuosness.
The psychos here enjoy humiliating and psychological torture. They enjoy
playing with the minds (not the bodies) of their victims. That's why the
proceedings are so slow and quiet. That's where the terror comes from: not
from violence but from quiescence.
A film trailing a boat is driving through an idyllic forest (shown from a
helicopter). Inside a couple, Anne and George, are playing a game: guessing
the title of classical musical pieces. They have a little boy in the back seat.
As they drive past the mansion of their friends who are on the lawn with two
young strangers, who appear to be scions of wealthy families,
she says "hi" but the friends hardly respond.
Fred walks by to introduce one of the two youngsters, the polite and shy Paul.
Later, when Anne is alone at home, the apparently courteous and servile
Paul returns to borrow some eggs. On the way out he drops the eggs and then
asks for more and then breaks them too, and Anne realizes that his manners are
not so good after all. Minutes later the barking of the dog announces that
Paul is back, and this time he is with his friend Peter. Both are all clad
in white, wearing white gloves and seem nervous.
She gets nervous too as she doesn't understand what they want. Peter asks
permission to test George's golf clubs. Anne loses her patience, especially
after Peter calls his friend "Tom" and not Paul. Anne asks them to leave, but
Peter demands the eggs before leaving. Anne gets angry. George walks in and
initially thinks that Anne is overreacting but when he asks them to leave
Peter hits him with the club, breaking his knee. The kids keep talking calmly,
in a plain tone. The family is terrified as it becomes apparent that the two
are psychos. Peter asks them to guess why he has the gulf club in his pocket:
because he tested the club with something else... their dog (whose dead body
Anne to find in the trunk of the car). The two kids are in no hurry. They
are still calm and relaxed. A boat approaches: it's their friends Robert
and Betsy. Paul stands by Anne as she welcomes the guests.
When the friends have left and she's back inside, she asks the kinds a question
with a "please" and the kids remark the "please", implying that the psychology
has changed: she has realized that she's the slave, not the master.
When George tries to restore his authority, they hit him in the leg and punch
Anne in the stomach. Not much violence, but enough to assert "their" authority.
Paul calmly offers a bet to them: he wants to bet that they will be dead in
twelve hours. George tries to make sense of their behavior, but they don't
want money. In fact, the kids make fun of his seriousness. They want to play.
Paul grabs the child and threatens to suffocate and strangle him if the man
does not order his wife to take off her clothes. It's a double humiliation:
the man has to ask his wife, and his wife has to strip naked. Then they sit
on the couch and enjoy the strip tease, while tears are rolling down her
cheeks. Then they let her get dressed again. While she is getting dressed,
George helps the child escape. The child hides upstairs and waits for the dark
to sneak out. Paul calmly tapes the half-naked Anne's feet and hands so she cannot escape and then
sets out to find the boy. The boy finds a gun but Paul challenges him to pull
the trigger knowing that there is no bullet. After the boy is reunited with his
parents, the kids load the gun and Paul lets Peter decide who to kill first.
Then the camera follows Paul while he goes to the kitchen and looks for food.
We hear the gunshot and someone agonizing and crying,
while Paul calmly fixes himself a snack. Then the camera returns
to the living room but only to show stains of blood on the tv set.
We don't see them as they say goodbye and calmly leave the house.
Then the camera shows the woman, getting up from the armchair, next to her
dead son. As she hops around the living room looking for a knife, we see
that George is still moving. After she frees herself, she hugs him and helps
him get on his feet. But then they find out that the kids have locked the doors
of the house... and we realize that the "game" is not over, that the two kids
are still playing with their victims (and that the director is still playing
with the viewer).
In a lengthy sequence she first tries in vain to reactivate their cellular
phone. Then George tells her to leave the house and look for help.
She runs outside and hesitates to stop the first car. She stops the second one... Minutes later George hears a noise and sees the golf ball rolling towards him: they are back, with his wife. The want to play another game. They have to decide who gets killed next. They ask Anne to help. Anne does not reply. Peter uses his knife on her husband (the camera sticks with Anne's pain-stricken face).
Anne accepts to play the game. Paul asks her to say a prayer to God. Anne confesses that she doesn't know any, and it's obvious that she doesn't believe in
God (she never once begged God for help, nor does she now).
Peter suggests one and she repeats it. Then Paul asks her to say the prayer
backwards. In a tone reminiscent of television quiz shows, Paul promises her
a prize: choosing who will be killed first and even with which device (the slow
painful death by knife or the fast painless death by gun). She grabs the gun
and shoots Peter dead. Paul curses, walks around the living room, finds the
remote control, rewinds the movie (we literally see the last scene quickly
backwards) and restarts from the point where she grabbed the gun. This time
he grabs the gun from her in time, and then coldly executes George.
It's morning. The kids take Anne outside and lay her down in the boat, bound
and gagged. They sail to the middle of the lake, while casually discussing
philosophy. Then they push the woman down and continue their conversation
on the way to another house. Next we see Paul calling at another house, the
house of the friends who briefly visited Anne, asking for some eggs...
(Note: Mel Brooks' Spaceballs had already employed the trick of
rewinding the film that is playing).
The game that the psychos play is a game with the human mind. The torturers
enjoy the agony of human beings trying to make sense of the irrational.
The premise is an old Hitchcock-ian trick: the devastation caused by an
unpredictable, irrational event to a simple ordinary life.
But Haneke drags that premise to its extreme consequences: the complete annihilation of the victim's psychology.
Haneke himself behaves like the torturer. He occasionally lets hope creep out
only to smash it in the next sequence (notably when he even rewinds his own
film under the nose of the viewer). Haneke humiliates the viewer's desire
for a happy ending, as much as his characters humiliate their victims.
Haneke patiently and quietly toys with the viewer the same way that his characters toy with their victims.
Another dimension of the drama that sets this one apart is the casual reference
to the atheism of the victims that occurs towards the ending. All of the sudden
the viewer realizes that they never invoked the help of God. In the old days
it was the evil ones who did not believe in God. Now it's the victims.
Code Unbekannt/ Cone Inconnu/ Code Unknown (2001) lacks the visceral
sadistic intensity of Haneke's masterpieces. It adopts a realist almost sociological
approach instead the usual hyper-psychological violence. Its leitmotiv is
the melting pot of Western society, not the decadence of Western society.
Its structure of parallel episodes that are more or less inter-related
is not new, but few such movies have used interlocking stories that are
so brief and cryptic. Furthermore, almost every episode is a very long take
and most of them end abruptly.
The premise of the "story" is to
show the devastating consequences of an apparently insignificant incident.
An underlying theme is the "cowardice" and coldness of the rich Western Europeans.
When something evil happens, they pretend not to see and not to hear: they
want to pretend that order reigns unchallenged. So the protagonist does not
help the child that is being murdered, and nobody helps her when she becomes
the target of a punk. It's the immigrants who are more likely to speak up
and stand up, to accept that disorder, and not order, is the norm, and that
one has to fight to restore order. By analogy, the wars in Kosovo and in
Afghanistan are juxtaposed with the peace in France, as if they were two
sides of the same coin.
Society does everything it can to humiliate the immigrants, but in the end
it's them who have dignity, whereas the rich Western Europeans are empty.
A little child against a wall is impersonating something. It is not clear if
she is afraid or playing. The camera turns and shows that other children
are staring at her, puzzled. It's a class of deaf children who are
playing at guessing what she meant by her action. We will never know the
answer because the children cannot guess, and the film moves on.
Anne leaves her building and meets Jean in the street. Jean is her boyfriend
Georges' teenage brother and does not want to live with his father anymore.
The camera walks with them down the street until they part.
He needs a place to stay, and she gives him the code to open the door of her
building. Then Jean retraces his steps towards her apartment. On the way he
angrily throws a piece of paper instead of money in the hat that a panhandling
Romanian woman keeps between her legs while she's sitting on a sidewalk.
A black kid, Amadou, sees him and runs after him, demanding that he apologizes
to the poor woman. A middle-aged Arab shopkeeper tries to break up the fight.
The cops arrest the black kid and the Romanian woman. But it is obvious that
the black kid is a nice human being and the Romanian woman didn't bother
anyone. The cause of the trouble and the mean-spirited being was Jean.
Amadou asks the cops to treat him with dignity, but they insist on grabbing
his arms as if he were dangerous. Amadou then resists and they have to beat
him up. (He was arrested unfairly but at least he wanted to maintain his dignity, but that's precisely what the cops wanted to take away from him).
We see Georges' photographs of Kosovo.
A black taxi driver receives a call that Amadou has been arrested.
Anne is shooting a movie in an ugly warehouse. Someone (whom we never see) has
locker her up and tells her that she will never get out alive, that he merely
wants to watch her die. She starts crying.
Jean's father is eating at a table. Jean walks in. The father gives him food.
Then the camera follows him as he walks into the bathroom and starts crying.
Business people are boarding a plane. Cops escort the panhandler to the plane
(she's been deported).
The mother of the arrested boy, Amadou, cries in her African language to the
middle-aged taxi driver. She complains that Amadou, a teacher of deaf
children and a kind man, was beated by the cops.
She only complains that Amadou spends a lot of time with white girls.
The illegal immigrant, Maria, arrives at her hometown in Romania, an
industrial area permanently enveloped in pollution.
While ironing her dress at home, Anne can hear the screams of a child.
Deaf children engage in collective African drumming.
Georges on the phone talks about his Kosovo photos.
Anne walks in and caresses his face.
Jean's father lives in a farm alone.
Elegantly dressed, Anne visits an ancient apartment,
opens a wardrobe's door and finds a wall. They are shooting another scene
of the film. The director is not happy, and asks that the actors replay
the scene. They do it again and the the camera shows it from a different angle.
Over dinner with friends and Georges, Anne discusses the film: it's about an
inspector who investigates a series of murders.
In the same restaurant Amadou, the black kid, is sitting at a table with
a white girlfriend.
Back to Anne's table, they discuss Georges' photos,
and then she finally notices the black kid who had a fight with Jean.
In Romania, Maria gets a ride from an acquaintance. She tells him that she
was a teacher in France and that she came back to Romania because she missed
Anne walks into her apartment and reads a letter. Worried, she tries to
phone Georges but he is out. She rings the bell of the neighbor, an old lady,
ands her if she wrote the letter. The old lady denies it, as if she didn't
want to have anything to do with it. The letter begs her to help the child
who is abused and whose screams she hears all the time.
Jean's father reads the letter from Jean who has left him.
At a supermarket, Anne talks with Georges about the child who is always
screaming and the letter. As they argue, she tells him that
she aborted while he was away; but then denies it.
Amadou's little brother has been the victim of bullying (another child stole
At the farm, Jean's father kills all his cows.
Another scene is being shot: Anne alone on the stage of a theater, laughing.
Just three people in the audience.
Amadou's sister is a deaf girl (one of the children of the first scene).
She and Amadou talk about her father, who neglects his family.
Georges in the subway takes pictures of unsuspecting peope with a camera hanging on his chest.
Jean's father tells Georges and Anne that he had remodeled the house for Jean.
Now that Jean is gone, he cannot run the farm by himself.
Georges was the first one to leave the countrysde for the big city.
Anne tells him that she just finished shooting a thriller.
He doesn't want to go and look for Jean, nor does Georges.
Anne and her old neighbor attend the funeral of the little child who was always
screaming. They leave together without saying a word, but one can feel the
old woman reproaching Anne for not doing anything and Anne feeling guilty about
it. The old lady, on the other hand, was afraid of getting involved, and denied
having written the letter. Both were cowards.
Georges describes photos from Afghanistan but the film shows us the pictures of
ordinary people that he took in the subway and in the streets.
He reads from his diary.
Maria is about to go back to Paris illegally with a group of other emigrants,
and cries because she feels humiliated and embarrassed by what she has to do.
Anne is swimming in a pool with her husband when their child climbs the
handrail of the balcony and almost falls to his death.
It's a movie that they are watching in the studio while they add their
voices to the scenes.
A car arrives in an African village.
In the subway two Arab punks annoy Anne. She moves to another seat, but one
of the Arab kids insists. She ignores him. He spits on her face. Sitting
near them is the Arab shopkeeper of the first scene: he is the only one to help
Anne. But then they don't exchange a word. She starts crying, silently, alone.
(She didn't do anything to save the abused child, and nobody
does anything to save her. The Arab kid is molesting her openly, but
the white Georges was molesting people too, just surreptitiously, and got
away with it).
The deaf children are drumming outdoors, and their drumming now becomes the
soundtrack for the rest of the film.
Maria is back to the same street but somebody else is panhandling at her
favorite corner (where the two kids had the fight) and, when she picks another
spot, two men send her away.
In another very long shot, Maria passes a subway exit just when Anne is coming
out of it. The camera abandons Maria to her destiny and follows
Anne to her place.
Georges get off a taxi and walks to her same door, but doesn't
know the code and therefore can't get in.
(We keep hearing the children drumming).
A deaf child is making faces and the other children are trying to guess
what he's doing.
La Pianiste/ The Piano Teacher (2001), adapted from Elfriede Jelinek's 1983 novel,
summarizes all the themes of the previous films, adding a strong
Erika is a middle-age piano instructor who has three personalities.
At home she is the repressed and oppressed daughter of a possessive mother,
who is constantly jealous of her private life. They scream and fight, but then
they sleep in the same bedroom. At the Conservatory she is the stern and
icy teacher who shows no emotions to her students (a girl, Anna, is giving
everything she can and is terrified by Erika's judgements).
When she is not home and she is not at work, she lets her secret fantasies
go wild: she walks into a porn store, rents a video, locks herself in the
cabin to watch it and smells the napkins that are drenched with the sperm
of previous voyeurs (she's the only woman in the store).
The young, handsome Walter falls in love with her when he sees her perform
at the piano at a private party. He has been learning piano as a hobby not
as a profession, and Erika looks down on him, but he is sincerely enthusiastic.
He is as warm to her as she is arrogant to him.
Walter insists in being admitted to her class and, the first time he gets a
chance, he tells her he loves her. She is arrogant and indifferent, but then
spies on him. She spends the night at a drive-in, watching couples make love
in the cars (feeling an urge to pee, she is almost caught by one of the young
people). When she returns home, she has a major fight with her mom who stayed
up in angst waiting for her.
At a rehearsal, Anna freaks out but Walter cheers her up. Erika is visibly
upset, perhaps jealous. She walks into the cloakroom, smashes a glass and
drops the sharp pieces in the pocket of Anna's coat. As Erika is chatting
with Walter, they hear the scream: Anna has cut herself and is in tears.
Erika feels the urge to pee and walks away. Walter reaches her in the women's
restrooms and kisses her. She lets him do it, and even starts masturbating
him. But then stops suddenly and tells him that she wants him to do things
to her in return for her sexual attentions. Walter is trying to behave like
a lover, but Erika is as cold and matter of factual as usual.
Erika meets Anna's mother, who tells her in tears that Anna cannot play for
two months, and therefore will miss the important recital she was preparing
for. The poor girl, who is ugly and shy, has sacrificed her life for the
piano, and her parents have sacrificed everything to pay for the lessons.
Erika is totally indifferent to the tragedy that she has caused and only
interested in Walter. Anna is living the life that Erika lived (is on her way
to become what Erika is) and Erika feels no compassion for her.
Walter follows Erika to her apartment and then insist to get in. Despite her
mother's protests, Erika locks herself in a room with Walter. Erika hands him
a letter than contains her "desires". It contains the sickest sadistic fantasies
a woman can have, particularly the desire to be beaten and raped in that
house itself, so that her mother can hear it. Erika already bought all the
tools to perform that sadistic ritual, but Walter leaves disgusted.
Erika goes to sleep as usual in her mother's bed, but this time jumps on her
and tries to kiss her on the mouth, moaning "I love you". Her mother is
shocked and disgusted, but assumes that this is a consequence of her stress.
Erika comes to realize that she really loves Walter and for the first time
looks for him. She tells him that she is willing to do anything for his love.
He is still upset, but she unbuttons his trousers and performs oral sex.
Except that at the end she throws up in front of him, and, instead of being
moved by her humiliation, he is even more disgusted by her whole personality.
He insults her and walks away.
But then he shows up, in the middle of the night, at her apartment. He locks
her mother in the bedroom and starts hitting Erika. Then he rapes her, just like
she asked him in the letter, while her mother can hear it. Erika doesn't move,
The next day, which is the day of the concert in which she has to replace Anna
at the piano, she packs a knife in her purse. She waits patiently in the
concert hall for Walter to arrive, but, when he shows up, he is surrounded
by his family, so cannot strike. Furious, she stabs herself in the shoulder
and then leaves the concert hall.
Le Temps du Loup/ Time of the Wolf (2003) works as a summary of sorts
of Haneke's previous concerns with senseless violence and the collapse
of civilization. It is set in a world that has just experienced a complete
collapse of the rule of law and of economic activity.
We are never told what caused the anarchy
(there is no voiceover narration and not even a musical soundtrack, as if to
evoke the somber realistic mood of a documentary).
We are presented with the
post-apocalypse. It is a chilling reminder that beastly instincts still
inhabit the human mind and modern civilization has simply tamed them and
channeled them into artificial lives.
Haneke's pessimism has never been lyrical : ironically it is lyrical
in this film that is the most minimal of all. However, the film is a bit
too cryptic and feels unfinished. It is by far Haneke's least powerful
An ordinary family (a couple with two children) arrives at their house in the
woods only to find that
another family has taken possession of it. The man of the intruding family
(also a couple with two children), Fred, points a gun at them.
Georges, the legitimate owner, remains calm and obtains that his children,
Eva and Ben, can wait outside while they talk.
As Georges tries to negotiate, the intruder, Fred, abruptly shoots and kills
him. He then tells Georges' wife Anne to leave. The intruders don't look like
gangsters, they look precisely like the owners, except that they are starving.
Later, Anne tries in vain to obtain help from a man, presumably an old friend:
he blames her for venturing out instead of helping her.
The woman and her children
walk around what appears to be a ghost town in ruins. They hide
in a barn where they can eat their meager supplies. Then they start roaming
around, looking for food and water.
At night the little boy, Ben, disappears. The mother and the teenage daughter
Eva search for him in the dark. Even making a fire to see is not trivial,
and eventually they set out to the barn's hay and lose all their belongings.
When morning comes, a young man shows up holding Ben, who doesn't talk
standing by the smoldering ruins of the barn in the middle of an empty field,
talks the young man into releasing the child. The daughter befriends the
stranger and he sits with them. The young man is wounded and Anne cleans his
wound. The young man tells them of a train station where he hopes to catch
a train. They start walking along the tracks, looking in vain for something
to eat. They only find dead animals and dead people.
When the train rides by, they shout in vain for it to stop.
They reach the station. The young man tells them that there are people inside.
Anne takes the children inside and introduces
herself to a crowd of dejected people who are largely indifferent to her
She meets Koslowski, the self-appointed leader of the group, mainly because
he has a gun. Koslowski tries to maintain order and to come up with meaningful
Accused of stealing, the young man runs away, in vain lured by Eva to stay.
Anne understands that her daughter would rather go with him than stay with her.
A young woman, Bea, is the only person who speaks to Anne. Bea explains that
a woman can get food and water from Koslowski in exchange for
sexual favors and that there are supposedly 36 Just Men who might be able to
save the world, and she's not sure if Koslowski is one of them.
Anne is soon overwhelmed by the spectacle of the group: the
hysterical young woman and her bickering husband,
the large family of Polish immigrants,
the endlessly praying woman, the
older man who checks the news on his cell phone,
The nameless young man remains nearby, but does not sleep with the others inside
the station, and Eva visits him. The boy confesses that he had to kill someone.
He personifies the brutal struggle for surival but he's also the only one
who occasionally shows remnants of empathy.
Eva finds pencil and paper and writes a letter to her dead father.
One night a large group joins Koslowski's group and the station gets
overcrowded. Some young men recognize the Polish people and blame them for
some trouble in their village.
With daylight Anne recognizes the man who killed her husband but her word
is meaningless without proof. She can only cry.
They kill horses to eat them. It starts raining and Ben is missing again.
The boy is less and less normal. Eva finds him under a wagon. The nameless
young man hands her a waterproof jacket.
At night the only topic that brings some comfort to the refugees is the
rumor about the Just Men.
Another night the angry villagers accuse the Polish immigrants of stealing
their food and water and almost lynch it in front of everybody, but Eva
knows who the thief is: the nameless young man who sleeps in the woods
like a parasiting coyote. She finds him and yells at him, but then hides
with him while the men search the woods.
A girl dies and the father offers the clothes to Anne. He asks her to help
him bury the girl.
Bleeding from the nose, the catatonic Ben walks outside and is attracted by a
fire. He drops more wood into it, perhaps to reenact the fire of the barn.
Then he strips naked and is about to jump in the fire, when a man sees him
and stops him in time.
Daylight. The camera is on a train that is rolling slowly through the rural
landscape. The end.
Cache`/ Hidden (2005) is, first and foremost, a powerful psychological
experiment about how we perceive films. After being fooled by the first scene
into believing that something is wrong with our viewing equipment, we don't
trust anything else. Each scene could be a video within the film.
The video scenes show us something that happened but that the "film" is not
telling us (except that it is showing it in the video).
only way to tell a video from a non-video scene is whether the camera is still
or not, we also become very aware of what the camera is doing, instead of
being absorbed in the story.
Haneke emphasizes the
contrast between the irrelevant contents of a video (mostly just a house and
someone walking out of it) and its implications (someone is watching you and
suddenly you are not safe anymore nor is anything that is dear to you).
The camera never "says", it simply stares: Haneke makes you realize how
powerful the "staring" is.
The first scene shows a house in an affluent street of a big city.
A man comes out
of it and crosses the street. Then the screen goes in fast forward and then
in rewind modes. (May viewers probably tried to adjust their video player
or thought the film was defective) A married couple, Georges and Anne,
is watching that video. The house is their house. The man in the video is
Georges. Anne found it under the porch wrapped in a supermarket bag.
There was no message. They are puzzled. They
have no idea who could have made it and why send it to them.
They sit at the table for dinner in a room that has an entire wall full of
books. The husband must be an intellectual. Their teenage son Pierrot arrives.
Of course, one can also associate this suspenseful story to a traditional
plot of thrillers: the past comes to haunt you when you least expect it and
upsets a life that seemed so routinely happy to be almost boring.
The torturer turns out to be the victim.
In general, the film is very much rooted in sociopolitical discourse.
The prominent theme is racial in nature. Haneke architects the racial conflict
in a manner that both implies the ethnic tension and transcends it.
The fact that the white man does not want to reveal the past to his wife
signals a guilt trip of sort by the ethnically pure privileged bourgeoisie.
The fact that the European writer accuses the African worker of torturing him
(when in fact in their childhood it was the opposite and now the former is
again destroying the latter's life) is a meditation on
self-described civilized people and their barbarians.
When the camera shifts from the video shot in the poor immigrant's apartment
to the nice living room of the wealthy writer who is watching the video,
there is a clear contrast of social classes. And when the immigrant starts
crying on tape, the roles of victim and torturer are swapped; and we understand
that is the historical truth of their relationship: it has always been the
bourgeois torturing the worker, never the other way around.
Hidden behind the psychological violence of the relationship between the
wealthy white man and his mysterious invisible nemesis is the psychological
torment of his family: Pierrot doesn't want his mom to hug him, and we never
see husband and wife in any intimate affectionate gesture other than exchanging
polite considerate words.
A less prominent but indirecly crucial theme is
the individual powerless in a state whose police is a cold bureaucracy.
The state cannot do anything for the wealthy writer. His wealth is a problem
that backfires against him; and then the wealthy writer realizes that nothing
can protect him from the consequences of being wealthy and famous.
After a brief scene of Pierrot learning how to swim, we see a scene of the
same house at night. The camera doesn't move. It must be a surveillance camera,
not held by someone but hanging from a wall. Nothing happens for a while. Then
we see the light of a vehicle that is presumably parking across the street
and then Georges crosses the street and enters the house.
We also see the bleeding face of a child.
The next scene is a group of people filming a television show in Georges'
room full of books. The recording ends and Georges is given a message.
He walks bastage and we see that we are on a set replicating his living room.
He makes a phone call. It's Anne telling him about the new video she found.
We see the screen rewinding the mysterious video while
Georges and Anne talk over it. They discuss calling the police. They suspect
a friend of Pierrot.
Next, a mysterious person calls Anne asking to talk to Georges. Anne understands
this is the same person who is stalking them. Meanwhile, Georges found a card
at the office that has the same childish drawing that came with the second
video. This time they go to the police. When they come out, a black kid on
a bike almost runs over Georges. The black kid shouts at Georges, Georges
shouts back that the kid was biking in the wrong direction in a one-way street.
The kid gets out of the bike and threatens Georges. (It feels like a statement
of the arrogance of the children of African immigrants at a time when France
was rocked by ethnic riots). Anne separates them and they walk away.
(There is more suspense and sense of fear in this encounter with the black
kid than in the phone call).
In the car Georges utters a few words to the extent that the police cannot
do anything and they are left on their own.
Georges drives to Pierrot's school as the children are coming out. Pierrot
asks him why he sent a card to the school: it's the same card Georges found
at the office, except that this one is signed by Georges and addresses to his
son at the school.
When, the following morning, we see Georges and Pierrot coming out of the house,
we hesitate to recognize that this time it is not a video watched by Georges
and Anne but it is indeed Georges and Pierrot walking to the car.
(We are now very aware that there is a camera and that someone is filming the
actors as they walk out of the house towards the car, something that normally
film viewers don't pay attention to, as they are absorbed in the story).
In the next scene Georges and Anne are having dinner with a few friends
in the room with the wall full of books. One tells a funny joke about being
the reincarnation of a dog. They also discuss a friend who is a filmmaker,
Frederic, who just broke up with his wife and has a new girlfriend.
We understand that Georges is a famous writer. Then someone rings the bell.
Georges walks outside but there's nobody. He finds another parcel. Anne
tells the guests that they are being stalked and Georges plays the video.
The video was shot through the windows of a car. The car drives up an unpaved
road to an isolated mansion. It's the house where Georges grew up.
Alarmed, Georges finds a pretext to visit his ailing mother. He tells her
that everything is fine at home, it's just that he and Anne are so busy. We
learn that Anne works for a friend of Georges', a publisher. Then Georges
casually asks news about Majid, an Arab kid whom his parents wanted to adopt.
His mother has bad memories about that episode and claims she never thinks of
it. We sense that Georges have been ransacking his memory trying to figure out
who could be the stalker who knows so much about his private life.
His mother can read his mind and senses that something is wrong, but Georges
denies it. He sleeps over at his mother's house.
The next scene shows an Arab child, presumably Majid, in the farm where
Georges grew up, and a child watching him, presumably Georges. Majid takes
an axe and tries to kill a chicken. He misses but some blood splashes on
his face. Now we know who is the bleeding child of the videos. The chicken
rolls around desperate, agonizing. The child Georges stares at the scene, speechless.
The child Majid grabs the axe and starts walking towards the child Georges.
And then the child Majid strikes...
Georges wakes up: he is having a nightmare at his mother's place.
The next video is even more mysterious. It shows a building and then a
street as the person making the video walks out. By analyzing the video in
slow motion Georges and Anne manage to read the address of the building.
Georges decides to investigate alone and tells Anne that he suspects someone.
Anne is shocked that he would want to visit the building alone, but even more
shocked that he refuses to share the name of the suspect with her.
He cannot tell her, which doesn't make sense to her (nor to us).
There is a psychological block in Georges' subconscious.
Anne makes a scene. They dignified elegant relationship is suddenly breaking apart.
Georges walks into the building and follows the video's path in reverse.
He knocks at the door and what appears a mild-mannered middle-aged man opens
the door. He is what Georges expected: Majid. Therefore Georges feels certain
that Majid is the stalker. But Majid doesn't even seem to understand what this
visit is all about and seems puzzled that Georges found out where he lives.
Majid lives in a small, poor apartment. He doesn't behave like someone who is
capable of blackmailing. He is certainly bitter about something that Georges
did to him. Georges briefly justifies himself, he says he had no choice,
but mostly wants to keep the moral high ground and play the victim.
Majid says he is still grateful to Georges' parents; and swears that he
never videos or anything to Georges.
Georges calls his wife and lies to her that he didn't find anybody.
Obviously he doesn't want to tell her his past incident with Majid.
After seeing Pierrot win a swimming competition while his parents are
we see again the scene of Majid talking to Georges, but from a different
angle: someone else made a video of them talking.
Georges fell into a trap: one video told him to visit Majid because the
stalker was ready to film him there.
The video shows us what happened after
Georges left the humble room: Majid, sitting at his tiny table, broke down in
tears. At this point we see the couple as they are watching the video in their
nice living room.
Anne says that it goes on for almost one hour. Georges apologizes to her
for not telling her the truth.
Georges explains that Majid was the son of Algerian immigrants who
worked on his parents' farm. They died in ethnic riots, killed by fascist
police. His parents looked in vain for their bodies. Eventually they decided
to adopt Majid. Georges, only six years old, was jealous and tortured the
slightly older Majid.
Anne believes that the video is "authentic", meaning that Majid was really
hurt by Georges' words. Later his boss at the tv station tells him that he
too has received a copy of the video. Georges realizes that the impression
one gets from the video is that Georges, not Majid, is the aggressor.
Angry that there might be many copies of that video sent to many people to
destroy his career, Georges returns to Majid's apartment, but nobody opens
Meanwhile, his wife is venting her frustration with a friend, Pierre.
Back home she realizes that Pierrot is nowhere to be found. They panic
and go to the police. Georges leads the cops to Majid's place.
The police arrests both Majid and his son, but, without proof, they tell
Georges that the two will be released. The police is willing to investigate the
child's disappearance, not the videotapes.
The next scene is the house viewed from the usual angle of the videos, but
this time it is just showing us that someone is bringing Pierrot home: the
kid simply spent a night at a friend's house without phoning his parents.
However the kid refuses to talk to his mother and doesn't want her to touch him.
It sounds like he saw her with Pierre and is either jealous of disgusted.
Nor does he talk to his father when he gets home.
The next scene is an episode of Georges' television show. After a few seconds
in which we see the guests discussing a book, we realize that Georges is
in a studio editing the taped show. While he is watching the video of the show,
and advancing or rewinding it, the phone rings: it's Majid who wants to talk
to him. Georges rings the bell, Majid opens the door, Georges walks in,
Majid swears he knows nothing about the tapes, then
pulls out a knife and slits his own throat splashing blood on the walls.
Georges stares at the corpse petrified for a while.
Now it appears that it was actually Georges who stalked Majid to the point
that the poor man committed suicide.
Back home he recounts the episode to his wife in a dark room.
He also tells her the lies that ruined Majid's life: the child Georges told
his parents that Majid was coughing blood (a sign of a dangerous disease) and
that he killed the bird (when in fact it was Georges who asked him to do it).
The consequence was that Majid was sent to an orphanage and never had the
education and the nice home that Georges enjoyed. Georges was only six, but his
lies changed Majid's life forever.
Anne listens like a psychoanalyst. They are so formal with each other that
they can't even hug: she just puts a hand on his shoulder.
Now Georges suspects that the videos were made by Majid's son. The boy comes
to confront Georges at work. Georges does not want to listen to the boy and
simply warns him to desist from sending those videos. The boy swears he has
nothing to do with the videos. He has come to remind Georges of how he
ruined his father's life, from the orphanage to the suicide.
Georges is clearly feeling guilty, even if he says the opposite. And between
the two the boy behaves like the more civilized.
Georges goes home, closes the curtains of his bedroom and goes to bed.
In his dreams he re-lives the moment when the child Majid left the house,
pushed into a car while he was screaming and after trying to escape.
The black and white historical drama
Das weise Band/ White Ribbon (2009) is structured like a
a mystery novel: a number of strange events take place in a rural village
(usually the stereotypical idyllic plaec). The "whodoneit", however, is left
unfinished: nobody will ever find out for sure who committed them.
There are two evil forces at play within this idyllic landscape. On one hand
are the adult men, each one representing a different facet of power: the
secular, the religious, the patriarchal, the scientific, etc. The only one
that comes out unblemished from all these events is the schoolteacher:
education. He is the only one who is truly honest, and is the only one who
finds a paradisiac reward (the wonderful nanny).
All the other adult men are perverted to some extent.
On the other hand is another evil force, and perhaps a more disturbing one:
their children (male and female). In fact, by the end they have become the main
suspects in the unsolved murder mystery. The children of the stern
pastor are aspiring sociopaths. The others follow them like zombies.
The children represent the future of the nation, and this nation is Germany
before World War I. They will become adults in 20 years (Nazist era).
Despite its obsession with propriety and
Christian Berger's iconic cinematography,
the film feels like a pamphlet about terror: how it originates and
how it expresses itself, and, ultimately, how terrorism is very much embedded
into human nature.
The story of the village,
set in a small rural village on the eve of World War I,
is narrated by an old man.
One day the doctor has an accident: someone has strung a wire at a tree in front
of his house and the doctor's horse tripped on it. The doctor is taken to
the hospital. He lives with his affectionate teenage daughter Anni and his
little son, helped by the neighbor, a midwife, since his wife died giving
birth to that boy.
A wealthy lady, the baroness, is practising at the piano and is annoyed
her little son who is distracting her.
A stern father, the village's pastor, punishes his four children who were
momentarily lost in town, causing him and their mother a great deal of anxiety.
The police officer would like to investigate the accident but the wire has
A woman is killed in a freak accident inside a barn owned by the baron of the
county. Her eldest son is angry and tries to find out who is responsible.
The narrator reveals himself to be the schoolteacher and, as a young man,
becomes a character
in the story when he goes fishing and sees the rebellious son of the stern
balance himself dangerously on the handrail of a bridge. The child begs him
not to tell the pastor. On the way home the schoolteacher meets for the first
time the new nanny, Eva, of the baron's twins.
Anni is having supper with her little brother and he starts asking questions
about death, puzzled that everybody has to die, even her, even him; and that
is when he suddenly realizes that his own mother is dead.
Martin is disappointed when he is told that her mother had another son.
During the harvest festival Max, the son of the dead woman, takes his revenge on
the baron by vandalizing an entire field of cabbages.
His father is terrified by the potential consequences: he has a large family
The schoolteacher finally meets Eva again and dances with her.
By the end of the festival, the baron discovers that his son Sigi is missing.
After a long search, the child is found, bleeding: he was beaten with a cane
by an unknown person.
The following day in church the baron threatens the whole town.
We learn that Max confessed vandalizing the cabbages but he has a strong alibi.
Someone else did it. And the baron reminds the audience that the doctor was
also the victim of unknown criminals.
The baron is the employer of half the village.
That night Eva and the tutor Huber are fired.
She is desperate becase she has nowhere to go and her family needs her salary,
and she asks the schoolteacher for help. He borrows a carriage and rides her
to her home village.
Max released from prison, but his father doesn't forgive him: the family
has nothing to eat.
The doctor returns home after his four-year old son ran away from home in
a heroic attempt to reach the hospital.
Worried that his son's health is mysteriously deteriorating, and suspecting
that this is due to masturbation,
tells him of another boy who indulged in that pastime and died of it.
The boy confesses that indeed he masturbates.
The doctor has sex with his neighbor the midwife.
On a very cold winter day the schoolteacher walks all the way to Eva's village
to propose. He meets her parents and her seven siblings. Her father complains
that he is almost twice her age, and
prefers that her daughter takes another job and gets to meet more people before
committing to the first suitor.
At night Martin sees a fire but he can't get up because the pastor
is tying his hands at night to make sure the boy doesn't masturbate.
Outside the adults are already busy trying to put off the fire: someone
has set fire to the barn.
The doctor brutally tells the midwife that she is old, ugly and smells bad,
and that he is disgusted by her (all of this while she was masturbating him).
He tells her that, after losing his wife, he simply wanted to have sex with
someone, and the brothel was too far.
She retorts that she has seen him touch his own daughter Anni and before that
he had abused his wife too. The midwife has spent all those years since her
death helping him raise his children and now he treats like a cheap whore.
And she is the single mother of a retarded boy. Annoyed by her litany,
the doctor simply tells her to go away and kill herself.
The pastor finally forgives Martin, but eldest daughter Klara is the real
Klara takes a pair of scissors and kills a bird that her father keeps in
a cage in his office, and then leaves it on his desk.
Anni wanders around the house in the dark looking for his sister and catches
his father taking her virginity on the examination table.
After several months the schoolteacher visits Eva again, and she kisses him.
The daughter of the steward, Erna, told the schoolteacher that sometimes her
dreams come true, and she has just dreamed that something terrible will
happen to the midwife's retarded son Karli. When someone does kidnap and torture
the poor child, the police interrogate Erna and terrorizes her, but the girl
simply keeps crying and protesting her innocence.
The pastor's younger son has saved a bird that was wounded. When the bird
recovers, the little child donates it to his father to replace the one that
The steward has to punish his boy for stealing Sigi's whistle.
It is the last straw for the baroness, who has been tired of life in that
region for a long time. She communicates to the baron that she
is in love with an Italian banker and is determined to leave him.
The steward interrupts them with the news that
archduke Ferdinand of Austria has been assassinated, the beginning
of World War I.
The schoolteacher decides to borrow the baron's bicycle and visit Eva,
but the midwife, in a frantic state, begs him to let her ride to town:
she claims that she knows who committed all those crimes but she is willing
to tell only the police. The schoolteacher lets her take the bicycle but then
walks to her house to see how Karli is doing: the house is locked, a rarity
in that town, and the children, led by Klara, are trying to peep inside.
The schoolteacher sends them away and then walks to the doctor's house to
ask for news about Karli: the doctor has left town with his children without
telling anyone. The schoolteacher
walks to the pastor's house and demands to talk to Klara and Martin.
The schoolteacher suspects that the children are behind all the crimes:
the wire that caused the doctor's accident, the fire that destroyed the barn
the kidnapping of Sigi, the torture of Karli. Even the fact that
Erna knew what was going to happen to Karli points at the children planning
it and Erna learning it from them.
He interrogates in vain Klara and Martin. When the stern
pastor arrives and hears of the schoolteacher's accusations, instead of
questioning his children, he attacks the honest man and
threatens him of massive retaliation should he ever mention his suspicions
again. He calls him a sick mind and dismisses him.
The midwife never comes back and her house is found empty:
she has taken Karli with her.
Gossip spreads in town that Karli could be the doctor's illegitimate son,
and that the doctor's wife may have been murdered by the doctor and his lover.
But war has broken out in Europe, the investigation is never completed, and
the schoolteacher moves to another town (and marries Eva).
is a rather mediocre and mostly linear film that Haneke tries to turn into something more by a narrative trick towards the very end. The film depicts an excruciating agony leaving the suspicion that it could all be just a fantasy of an old man who is losing his mind.
The first scene shows the police breaking into an apartment and finding the decomposing body of an elderly woman neatly composed in her bed.
Most of the film is a flashback showing how she got there. We first meet the elderly couple of Anne and Georges at the concert hall. We only see the audience, not the performer, but later we learn that the pianist is their former pupil, now a rising star of classical music. At home they find that someone has tried to break into their apartment. She is a bit upset but he reassures her. While they are having dinner as usual, suddenly Anne remains petrified, not responding to any word or gesture of her husband's. He is about to go out and look for help when he hears that she turns off the water that he had left running. He walks back into the kitchen and she's behaving absolutely normal. She doesn't remember anything wrong. He is terrified and wants to call the doctor. We are left uncertain about who is sick: did she really freeze or did he imagine the whole thing?
Her daughter Eva comes to visit and tells her father that her British husband Geoff, also a classical music performer, is having affairs with other women. Her 26-year old son is independent. Her father tells her that her mother had an operation and the operation failed leaving Anne partially paralyzed. She comes back in a wheelchair. She makes Georges pledge that he will never send her back to the hospital. Georges comes back disturbed from a bizarre funeral. Anne tells him that she doesn't want to live any longer because she realizes that it will only get worse. Her body is progressively getting more and more paralyzed. Their pupil Alexandre pays a visit and is shocked to find Anne in a wheelchair.
Someone rings the bell but then disappears and Georges finds himself roaming flooded corridors... only to wake up in the middle of the night: it was a nightmare.
A text message announces that Anne will come to visit them with her husband.
Alexandre sends his CD, but Anne does not want to listen to it. She wants to see the photo album. One day she pees on herself. She is humiliated. When Eva and Geoff come, Anne cannot utter sensible words anymore. Eva doesn't understand her own mom and is devastated. Georges tells them that he has consulted two specialists and there is nothing to do. He continues heroically to take care of her by himself but eventually has to hire a nurse. Now she is permanently in bed and calls her mom or simply screams "pain!" Anne refuses to open her mouth to be fed: obviously she wants to die. When Eva comes to visit next, her father tries to keep her from seeing her mother: he senses that Anne would not want to be seen like that. He has also taken the habit not to pick up the phone, as if it were pointless to give news of a worsening illness. Suddenly, alone with Anne, Georges finds the courage to suffocate her with a pillow. He then sets out to write a lengthy letter, distracted only by a bird that flies into the apartment from a window and that he carefully captures but then lets go.
Next he is lying in bed. His wife is washing the dishes in the kitchen, as if the whole episode did not happen and they had just finished dinner (but we know it really happened because of the first scene). They walk out together, presumably to another performance.
Eva enters the apartment. She has the keys. There is nobody inside. (Presumably this is after the police came and took the body out).
Happy End (2017)
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