Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke

Haneke was born in Munich, Germany and raised in a theatrical family; his father, Fritz, was an actor and director and his mother, Beatrix, also acted. After the war, his family moved to Wiener Neustadt in Lower Austria, where he grew up wanting to be a concert pianist. Luckily for him, Haneke's stepfather intervened and told the youngster he had no musical talent. With that in mind, Haneke went to the University of Vienna when he graduated high school, studying philosophy, psychology and drama. Throughout his life, however, Haneke had been greatly influence by film, leading him down the path of becoming a director. Before he made his first film, Haneke's life took a detour by way of Südwestfunk, Bavaria's equivalent of the BBC, where he began working as a writer-producer in 1967. After four years, he began putting on the plays of Stindberg and Goethe, while directing made-for-television movies in Germany. But what he really wanted to do was direct features.Finally, when he was 47 years old, Haneke directed his first feature film, "The Seventh Continent" (1989), and already his talent for finding the dark and disturbing corners of humanity was evident. Based on a real-life event in Germany, the film depicted a middle-class family who is seen in one-day snapshots over the course of a year to slowly disintegrate under the tedium of existence until on the last day, they all destroy everything in their house and commit suicide. "The Seventh Continent" marked the first of a trilogy that depicted gruesome cautionary tales about deadened emotions in the modern world. With the second part, "Benny's Video" (1992), Haneke pushed the boundaries even further with this tale of a lonely teenager (Arno Frisch) ignored by his momma and dad (Angela Winkler and Ulrich Muhe) who finally gains the attention he seeks by murdering his girlfriend (Ingrid Strassner) and showing the video to his parents. Rounding out the trilogy was "71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance" (1994), a grisly drama that shows the events leading to a mass murder and suicide at the hands of a 19-year-old college student.In 1997, Haneke made his most controversial and most talked about film to date, "Funny Games," a sadistic thriller that depicted a family of three - mother (Susanne Lothar), father (Ulrich Muhe) and young son (Stefan Clapczynski) - being viciously and mindlessly tortured by two young men (Arno Frisch and Frank Giering) pretending to be friends of the family's neighbors. More a meditation on audience's participation in the perpetuation of violence in society than anything else, "Funny Games" was hailed by some; reviled by others and by most accounts, bordered on torture porn. For his next film, Haneke directed "The Castle" (1997), an adaptation of fellow Austrian misanthrope Franz Kafka's final novel. Continuing to demonstrate his bleak take on humanity, Haneke directed "Code Unknown" (2000), an understated look at three separate lives from different cultures who converge on each other in Paris after a single act of random aggression.Haneke returned to his old masochistic self with "The Piano Teacher" (2002), a dark erotic drama about a cold and insensitive music professor (Isabelle Huppert) who expresses her sexual frustrations through voyeurism and self-mutilation. Her descent into madness grows worse after meeting a young man (Benoit Magimel) who helps her explore her sadistic desires even further, eventually leading to her undoing. "The Piano Teacher" achieved substantial critical success, earning several international awards and nominations, including a nod for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2001 Academy Awards. He moved on to direct "Time of the Wolf" (2004), a horrific post-apocalyptic look at a family who flee a European city for their country home to protect their children from the ravages of a food and water shortage, only to confront a desperate family occupying their home. With "Cache" (2005), Haneke depicted a typical middle-class family being harassed by a series of increasingly personal videotapes of their daily lives which eventually unravel the husband's dark past. In a rare move for any filmmaker, Haneke revisited "Funny Games" (2008) with a shot-by-shot English-language remake starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Michael Pitt.Haneke's next feature, "The White Ribbon" (2009), showed the breakdown of society in a small German village set upon by a series of bizarre, unexplained and dangerous events in the days leading up to World War I. A grim examination of the seeds of fascism and terrorism, the challenging film - despite being shot in stark black and white, it offered no clear narrative resolution - received high praise for the performances Haneke elicited from his cast, especially the children, and went on to win the Palme d'Or at that year's Cannes Film Festival. The enigmatic writer-director returned to Cannes three years later with "Amour" (2012), the surprisingly touching (for Haneke) story of an octogenarian couple (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) taking strength and solace in each other after the wife suffers a debilitating stroke. A clear audience favorite at the festival, "Amour" won Haneke another Palm d'Or, making him one of a handful of elite filmmakers - among them Francis Ford Coppola - to have achieved the feat. In the new year, he also found himself Oscar nominated for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture.