AFS Essential Cinema

Spaces Between Realities: The Films of Michael Haneke

AFS Essential Cinema

During the next two months, as part of its ongoing Essential Cinema series, the Austin Film Society will be showing eight films by writer/director Michael Haneke. Nothing could correspond so perfectly with the arrival of spring – in all its regenerative, erotic giddiness – than eight suffocating movies that traffic almost exclusively in urban alienation, family trauma, and dispassionate ultraviolence.

Born into a theatrical family in 1942 in Munich, Haneke became a film director in 1989, after working for years in the German television industry. His debut film, The Seventh Continent (which launches the series on April 3), established the outlines of a landscape Haneke has continuously traveled for the past 20 years, one marked by violent despair and an eerie, permeating malevolence. Like many of Haneke's films, The Seventh Continent (the first in what would come to be known as his "emotional glaciation" trilogy) reflects on the sinister and subtle forces eating away at the facade of contented bourgeoisie life in the late 20th century. One can only imagine what the guy is like at cocktail parties.

The Seventh Continent is followed by Benny's Video and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, both of which explore the emotional fragility of modern existence and raise the bar for cringing cinematic violence. Unlike many of his cinematic contemporaries who play violence for visceral kicks (Quentin Tarantino comes to mind), Haneke uses brutality as a means of exploring human disassociation, and his scenes are the more horrible for their distance. In Benny's Video, a young woman who has the unfortunate luck of meeting the film's titular hero is murdered, and Haneke, rather than granting his audience the emotional outlet of witnessing the crime, chooses instead to have the action take place offscreen, with the victim's screams – heard for unending minutes – supplying the rope that ties her terror to ours.

This unrelenting fascination with the psychological torment and voyeuristic fascination that attend acts of hurt is Haneke's calling card, and it has secured his reputation as one of the most controversial and divisive filmmakers working today. His abilities, meanwhile, have secured him as one of the finest. His first collaboration with actress and longtime admirer Juliette Binoche, 2000's Code Unknown, drew on Haneke's vision of a disjointed world populated by haunted souls and expanded it to take in the whole of Europe. "If Funny Games was the conclusion of my Civil War trilogy," Haneke said at the time, "Code Unknown could be given the heading of 'World War.'" It brought Haneke wider acclaim and earned him the Cannes Film Festival's Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, which is, without question, the best of all possible names for an award. 2001's The Piano Teacher was an arthouse triumph, winning the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and innumerable accolades for its star, Isabelle Huppert, who shines as Erika Kohut, a middle-age music instructor with sadomasochistic predispositions.

2005's Cache, which will close the series, is perhaps Haneke's greatest success to date. Starring Binoche as Anne Laurent, a wife and mother whose family life is turned inside out by the mysterious appearance of a surveillance video tape, Cache finds Haneke once again probing the depths of paranoia and distrust and tightening the screws on seemingly placid middle-class existence. As with so many of Haneke's protagonists before her, Laurent is beset on all sides by nameless, malevolent forces rising out of her family's dark past.

And, with that, bring on the springtime.

All screenings take place on Tuesdays at 7pm, Alamo Drafthouse Downtown (409 Colorado).

April 3: The Seventh Continent

April 10: Benny's Video

April 17: 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance

April 24: Funny Games

May 1: Code Unknown

May 8: The Piano Teacher

May 15: The Time of the Wolf

May 22: Cache

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Spaces Between Realities: The Films of Michael Haneke, Austin Film Society Essential Cinema series

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