Cannes-winner Haneke probes dark secrets of bourgeois life

26th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Haneke’s latest work moves back in time for a black-and-white meditation on malice in a German village on the eve of World War I, which some critics have taken to be a parable on the roots of Nazi savagery.

Cannes -- Austrian Michael Haneke, whose The White Ribbon on Sunday won the top prize at Cannes, is a master of films that show modern middle-class lives disrupted by malevolent forces.

His latest work moves back in time for a black-and-white meditation on malice in a German village on the eve of World War I, which some critics have taken to be a parable on the roots of Nazi savagery.

The son of an actor couple, Haneke was born in 1942 in the southern German city of Munich. He had an early career as a film critic, theatre director and television editor and director.

The Seventh Continent in 1989 was his first feature and displayed the violence and formal boldness that would mark the later work of a multilingual director who has made movies in French, German and English.

Funny Games brought him to international attention in 1997.

It is a psychological horror movie that follows two psychopaths taking a family hostage and sadistically torturing them. The director, who in recent years also turned to directing operas, made an American remake in 2008.

Haneke's biggest breakthrough came in 2001 with The Piano Teacher, which won him the Grand Prix at the Cannes film festival -- a major accomplishment, but not the coveted Palme d'Or.

Its subject is an uptight music professor who is only able to "feel" by performing sadistic acts on her students, and it starred Benoit Magimel and Isabelle Huppert, who was jury president at this year's festival.

Both Funny Games and Hidden -- a 2005 film set in Paris -- display some of the themes that recur in Haneke's work, such as the arrival of a disruptive force into a middle-class family's comfortable existence.

The White Ribbon recounts a series of violent events that shatter the propriety of what initially appears to be a model village but is gradually exposed as a brutal community in which physical and mental abuse is commonplace.

The title of the German-language film refers to the ribbons some of the village children are made to wear to show their supposed purity. Running at over two hours, it offers a vision of life as it was for the generation which 20 years later would embrace Hitler.

Cannes jury president Huppert said it was an "extraordinary film" that "doesn't deliver any messages, but says important things."

The Times of London last week hailed "the cold brilliance of this art house luminary and the uncompromising vision of (Haneke's) latest work."

Rory Mulholland/AFP/Expatica

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