An Introduction to Michael Haneke


1989 was the year a fresh new talent stepped upon the stage of international cinema. His craft carefully honed over some 15 years of television film direction, Michael Haneke made his feature debut with The Seventh Continent, the first shocking introduction of his vivid and striking style to a wide audience. 20 years and 10 films later, Haneke’s winning of the Palme d’Or for his 2009 The White Ribbon sealed his reputation as one of the great artists of our time. This retrospective will trace his evolution from little-known Austrian filmmaker to one of Europe’s—indeed the world’s—most critically acclaimed and admired cinematic geniuses.

Few experiences haunt one as unforgettably as the first viewing of a Haneke film, so powerful and deeply probing is his work. There is an inimitability to Haneke’s style, an almost disaffected distance that inexplicably conjures feelings of intense and overwhelming emotion. A festival screening of The White Ribbon was my first introduction to Haneke’s work, an experience from which I emerged dazed, unsure of how to react. This is the effect of his style, the reactions he invokes rarely comfortable, but always challenging and invigorating, stimulating both intellectually and emotionally.

Through films in German, French, and English, Haneke has dissected a wealth of themes in this intense personal style, his topics ranging from existential emptiness in a modern consumerist world, to the causes and effects of violence and society’s growing desensitization to acts of brutality, to post-modern treatises on film itself and our level of interaction with the medium. His body of work comprises a fascinating concern at the deterioration of contemporary civilization, a bold pushing of his chosen medium to its limits and beyond, and an uncompromising questioning of his own role as a filmmaker, and of our roles as viewers.

So whether you be a fan since the start of this great artist’s work, a more recent addition like me to his legion of fans, or an unknowing outsider not yet to experience the overpowering wonder of your very first Haneke film, come along on this journey through an extraordinary body of work. It’s a cold, dark, and unforgiving road, and I could sure use the company.


About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.