Michael Haneke’s Oscar acceptance speech last night was a characteristically terse affair. Winning the Best Foreign Film award for Amour, an uncompromising poem on the terrifying effects of old age, Austria’s foremost director thanked his cast and crew in his low Teutonic brogue, before giving a touching but quick tribute to his wife of 30 years. It is this unstarry, unflinching attitude that grounds Yves Montmayeur’s film tribute to the venerable director, entitled Michael H. Profession: Director, released on March 15. Haneke, who has a series of awards under his belt, remains unfazed by the accolades and intent on seeking out the terrible and the frightening in life.
"Haneke remains unfazed by the accolades and intent on seeking out the terrible and the frightening in life"
Famous for not divulging the themes and ideas behind his often ambiguous films – which include The Piano Teacher, Hidden and The White Ribbon, all of which have in any case been garlanded with multiple awards – Haneke instead asks searching questions about morality, the nature of suffering and our passive consumption of violence in pop culture. He has worked with some of the best actors around, including Isabelle Huppert, Juliette Binoche and Emmanuelle Riva (who won a BAFTA for her performance in Amour but lost out to Jennifer Lawrence in the category for Best Actress at the Oscars), all of them happy to extol his virtues in Montmayeur’s film. Is he a fun director? Well, it seems that he can share a joke but his working method is strict. That’s not to say he is detached; we see him running around his sets, acting out scenes for his actors to imitate, and getting fully immersed in his directing class at the Film Academy in Vienna, choosing classic Chekhov texts for his earnest pupils to act out. Will he be drawn on the subjects of his films? Right from the start, Montmayeur is given short shrift. Is he tempted by Hollywood? Not a jot, it seems, as he tells the story of being courted by a big studio into taking on a risible project, which needless to say he rejected. This auteur remains steadfastly wedded to his vision. Asked why he so often portrays suffering in his films, his answer is simple: “I am afraid of it.”
Michael H. Profession: Director is on limited UK release from March 15.
Text by Laura Allsop