Michael Haneke’s Films Confound Our Conceptions of Reality

Through formalism, Haneke confronts us about what it means to identify with what we see onscreen.
Funny Games Michael Pitt
By  · Published on January 10th, 2018

Through formalism, Haneke confronts us about what it means to identify with what we see onscreen.

Cinema has the sheer ability to be very identifiable and real; to reflect what we know and perhaps be a more objective mirror into the lives of many. Especially at this point in time when technology has increasingly allowed fantastical characters like superheroes to feel more plausible than ever, cinema has focused on telling the stories of real people from demographics other than that of the cis white man(in my opinion, rightfully so). Hence, there’s definitely a power in the onscreen image to present what’s relatable.

However, in filmmakers like Michael Haneke exists a viewpoint counter to the increasingly prevalent realism — perhaps hyperrealism — of modern cinema. Rather than focus on the medium’s capacity to replicate reality, Haneke explores what it means to consistently undermine the real through technique, as evidenced in a new video essay by Lewis Bond of Channel Criswell.

The essay begins with a quote from Haneke himself, stating, “It’s the duty of art to ask questions, not to provide answers.” The essay dissects the presentations of truth in Haneke’s work, determining a purposely tenuous relationship between audience’s perception of reality and cinema. Despite making use of extremely distressing imagery that hits hard for audiences — including but not limited to rape, animal cruelty and murder — Haneke’s commitment to form is apparently meant to interrogate our willingness to witness or look away from depictions of such incidences on film.

Haneke employs a realistic approach to filmmaking — for example, utilizing long, uninterrupted takes — in order to “eliminate” some of the inherently farcical elements of movies in general.┬áHis use of media within media is also meant to question his own audiences, who absolutely understand that what happens within the confines of the screen isn’t actually real, but still feel deeply connected to what is portrayed. It’s the greatest juxtaposition in Haneke’s work that’s in turn thoroughly fascinating.

Bond’s video has at least delivers a rather compelling argument, even if I’m not necessarily going to watch all of Haneke’s movies in a totally new light now. This is better explained by what happens to be my favorite part of the video: Haneke’s own assessment of the suitability of presentation, which at least explains why his work is not for everyone.

“There is not a limit of what can be shown. I would say that there is a limit of taste. But the limit of taste is a very individual one, of course.”

Whether you’re a fan of Haneke’s or not, Bond’s video is a stunning explanation of the director’s filmography. Watch it below.

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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)