Michael Haneke is Ready to Make His First TV Show

It will probably make you really uncomfortable, and that’s a severe understatement.
Michael Haneke filmmaking Happy End
By  · Published on January 30th, 2018

It will probably make you really uncomfortable, and that’s a severe understatement.

I don’t know about you, but the phrase “Michael Haneke is making a TV show” is a little scary. It’s not uncommon to associate his work with intensity, anguish or sheer discomfort, and frankly, a show by him is just going to hurt for a long time. Deadline reports that Haneke is ready to delve into long-form storytelling with Kelvin’s Book. The show will be made in collaboration with FremantleMedia.

Kelvin’s Book will be an English-language show told in ten parts. It is said to be a “high concept series is set in a dystopian world and will tell the adventurous story of a group of young people in a not too distant future.” According to executive producer Nico Hoffman:

“‘Kelvin’s Book’ is an extraordinarily rich, gripping and ambitious story. With contemporary themes and a reflection of the digital age that we live in, there’s no better time for this project.”

Maybe I’m just more affected by this Haneke video essay than I thought I would be. Despite confronting audiences via portrayals of the extreme — from the twisted fascination of Funny Games, the violent display of pent-up frustration of The Piano Teacher and the unflinchingly depressing reality of Amour — there lies a distinct lack of judgment in Haneke’s films. We take from them what we desire and fuel the cycle of media consumption that Haneke so ardently questions. Haneke’s films are never cold, but their clinical nature — watching film subjects carry out unsavory or blatantly painful acts — forces audiences to have their own conclusions about emotionally extreme cinema.

What would a television version of that even look like? Haneke himself seems to imply that Kelvin’s Book will be a culmination of sorts at this point in his career. We probably don’t have to expect ridiculous twists and turns per episode, despite Haneke’s penchant for the shocking. Of Kelvin’s Book, he simply says:

“After ten TV movies and 12 films, I wanted to tell a longer story for once.”

Haneke’s films have often appeared to encapsulate reality but insistently played with that notion all the same. Some are more straightforward than others given genre conventions, even if Haneke seeks to break them all. The idea of a home invasion movie like Funny Games is almost less outwardly confronting, because it borrows so much, stylistically, from run-of-the-mill horror films. Maybe the fourth-wall-breaking cuts some of the tension too, despite it clearly being there to question an audience’s desire to watch something so abhorrent. Something like The Piano Teacher is a different kind of psychological thriller instead — one that complexly uses violence as a way to explore concepts of agency and identity. But both films converse about portrayals of violence and lays bare audience obsessions with the concept.

Perhaps we can anticipate a similarly streamlined approach to Kelvin’s Book as Haneke confronts the digital age. Haneke’s movies are disarmingly contained and normalized, and his treatment of contemporary themes will probably be the same. Sure, avid TV watchers in 2018 are well-acquainted with questions of morality in the age of technology thanks to Charlie Brooker. He’s sort of (thankfully) moved on from the harrowing in some episodes of Black Mirror, at least. However, there is no telling just how much darker a Haneke TV show will be as well. All we can really ‘look forward to’ is emotional turmoil and lots of it.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)