Michael Haneke: “If we are doing drama, we have to get people upset”

Meeting with the Austrian filmmaker around his Happy End.

If the Cannes 2020 festival will not take place, television relies on the flagship films of its previous editions. Arte plans this evening Happy end, a drama by Michael Haneke screened on the Croisette in 2017, followed by a documentary on Austrian cinema. Première had met the filmmaker during his Cannes presentation. Flashback.

First : Happy End works a bit like a treasure hunt and …
Michael Haneke: A what ? A “treasure hunt”? What is that ?

Let’s say that, in a rather playful way, you summon us to seek the nature of the film as it advances …
Yes…

And you only reveal it to two-thirds …
Yes, that’s pretty nice, right? What amuses me is playing with your intelligence. When I go to the movies it makes me more happy to have work in front of a film than if I am given everything on a set. Otherwise it’s TV.

Inside this first game is another, which consists of truffling Happy end fairly explicit references to your film.
I’m told that, yes. It was not conscious, honestly. It’s true that the character of Jean-Louis Trintignant looks a bit like the one he played in Love… but pfff, it’s just that I always deal with the same subject. My universe is very limited, ahaha. I’m laughing but it’s true. On TV we find a theme in a meeting room and we make a film of it – that is to say that we are digging an idiotic snapshot from start to finish, what a bore. I only talk about what I know because I like precision, so it can feel like I’m repeating myself. Never mind. We also blamed that on Bergman or Bresson, I think it’s a quality to have a universe.

Well, the film being a comedy it still detonates quite a bit inside your work.
Ahah, yes I am told that too, that the film is funny. That makes me very happy.

Wait, wasn’t it on purpose?
Yes, if, a little, it is still a farce, but not only I hope.

Happy End: Haneke in minor mode

When you add the compilatory side of the film to its farcical side, you have the impression of hearing yourself say to your heirs: “You can always try guys, I will always remain more singular – even when I copy myself”.
Ahahaha. Your idea is funny but I never cared about it. I sometimes hear journalists say about the films of my young colleagues “it looks like Haneke”, it’s perfectly uninteresting, all because they make films in fixed shots and they like sequence shots .

Do you still agree that you have behind you a horde of followers, more or less good elsewhere?
Yes maybe, but you have to detach yourself from that, like I tried to detach myself from the influence of Bresson for example. I am just teaching at a film school and the first thing I tell my students is not make a Haneke-style film. It only gives bad things. Like when everyone wanted to make their Cassavetes film at some point. But once again we have to stop saying that the directors who like shots stare at Haneke, it’s too simplistic.

Wait, your style is not only characterized by the use of stills anyway …
What else, tell me?

Already there is a fairly cruel form of misanthropy…
Misanthrope? Ah no that I refuse. I like people. All my actors will tell you how much I love them. I do dramas, I talk about black things like Ibsen or Strindberg. We’re talking about the sin of guilt, that’s the strength of the drama.

Yes but we can bring it towards a form of lyricism too…
Of course, but today everything is saturated with a completely artificial grace. It is a lie to calm people down, to tell them that everything is fine: that is contemptuous, that is misanthropic. If we take drama for what it is, then we have to get people upset.

In his way of pinning a bourgeois family from the North of France, Happy end reminds a bit of hardcore Desplechin…
I don’t know his cinema. I saw a movie years ago, but I can’t remember the title. There was Amalric in it …

Damn, he’s almost in all of his films. Are there any films that interest you here in Cannes?
Yes, Lanthimos. And also Ostlund.

Well, filmmakers whose films are said to “look like Haneke” …
Well I find it flattering.

For them ?
Ahah, but not for me!

Michael Haneke is also preparing his first series

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