Understanding Michael Haneke: Caché (2005)

Caché (Hidden) (2005)

All throughout his career Michael Haneke has been busy putting a scalpel to the wealthiest classes and flaying them methodically – layer after layer – to expose their flesh and the intricately woven network of delicate cardiovascular vessels pumping their azure blood. However, while doing so he has also been struggling with his own perspective and, hence, some of his work may give an impression that he has been engaged in this delicate surgical work whilst mounted atop a high horse of immovable moral authority. This is not the case here. Released in 2005, Caché proves unequivocally that at least for the moment Haneke was able to dismount and deliver his most cunning experiment in deconstructing the bourgeoisie, thus proving to be the pinnacle of his filmmaking career in my view. 

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The Kubrick Appreciation Project: The Killing (1956)

Stanley Kubrick referred to his 1956 noir caper The Killing as his first mature film. However, as Roger Ebert famously pointed out, it may be inappropriate to single it out as some kind of a fork in the road, let alone a watershed moment that set Kubrick on a trajectory to the pantheon of greatest filmmakers in history. Just as Ebert suggested, without the directing credit listed at the beginning of the movie, it would be very hard to trace it back to Kubrick. 

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Understanding Michael Haneke: Time of the Wolf (2003)

The term ‘time of the wolf’ finds its roots in Nordic folklore and in the most basic terms it denotes a time of the night just before the dawn. Ingmar Bergman once summarized it as a “the hour between night and dawn, when most people die, sleep is deepest, nightmares are most real. It is the hour when the sleepless are haunted by their worst anguish, when ghosts and demons are most powerful.” This note was an accompaniment to the screenplay to Hour of the Wolf, his 1968 psychological horror with Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann.  

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The Kubrick Appreciation Project: Killer’s Kiss (1955)

There is an entire universe of difference between Fear And Desire, Kubrick’s feature debut, and Killer’s Kiss, his sophomore effort. Although one could see the filmmaker’s potential in the former film, especially exemplified in aggressive editing, confident staging of static shots and the way the narrative goes about exploring its central themes, many choose to see it as a failure whose reputation is solely derived from the eventual trajectory of Kubrick’s filmmaking career. In other words, it takes some real effort to see past the film’s blatant flaws in craftsmanship and occasional instances of narrative meandering marring the progression of the story in order to appreciate it as more than a stepping stone. 

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The Wes Craven Retrospective: Swamp Thing (1982)

Long before what we now understand as the Golden Age of Comic Book Movies, the pickings were slim for fans keen on seeing their favourite spandex-clad superheroes on the silver screen. Richard Donner’s Superman had only opened in 1978 and the public at large was most likely not ready to embrace comic books as a serious source material for cinematic treatment. Granted, The Incredible HulkCaptain America and others featured prominently on TV, but I don’t think I’d be too far off the mark if I assumed these works were never taken as anything more than entertainment for children.  

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Understanding Michael Haneke: The Piano Teacher (2001)

I have to say that The Piano Teacher is an interesting specimen in Michael Haneke’s filmography, especially considering the entirety of what came before it, in that it is both a continuation of the journey throughout his longstanding thematic interests and a breath of fresh air at the same time. This is particularly with regard to Haneke’s proclivity towards detaching himself emotionally from the matter at hand and assuming the role of a cynical jester who takes pleasure from the simple act of torturing the viewer, which is almost completely absent from this film. 

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The Kubrick Appreciation Project: Fear and Desire (1953)

Released in 1953 and clocking in at just about one hour of running time, Fear And Desire is widely considered Stanley Kubrick’s directorial feature debut. This idea of trying to define whether it should still be considered a short film instead is a controversy one could devote an entire article to delineating, because there’s but a dozen of definitions out there devised with the intent to segregate films into shorts, featurettes and features. Since cinema isn’t really an exact science, a lot of it is rooted in opinion; and as we all know, opinions are like buttholes – everybody has one. So, in the interest of steering clear of any rectal explorations trying to make up my own mind on the subject, I will just agree with what looks like a consensus and instead focus my energy on discussing the film itself. 

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Understanding Michael Haneke: Code Unknown (2000)

Preamble

I have decided to include the following review in this Michael Haneke retrospective despite having watched it a little over a year ago for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the film is difficult to track down in my neck of the woods and giving it a genuine rewatch would be rather difficult. Secondly, I would like this review to stand close to my writings on his other works because, regardless of my opinion, the film is a key part of his journey as one of the foremost auteurs of our time. And finally, I don’t particularly think my view on this would shift radically anyway. However, it must be acknowledged – and it is partly why I am writing this short paragraph – that I watched Code Unknown before I was able to see 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, to which it is undoubtedly related structurally and thematically. In hindsight, I would have maybe adjusted my opinion on this film to a small degree had I known these two films were so closely related; however, I still stand by my thoughts and an overarching opinion that Michael Haneke was occasionally forgetting to dismount his moral high horse and delivering his timely and poignant sermons in a most unapproachable manner.

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The Kubrick Appreciation Project: Flying Padre (1951) and The Seafarers (1953)

Flying Padre

Stanley Kubrick’s sophomore short documentary was an eight-minute-long human-interest piece titled Flying Padre about a priest living in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico and taking care of a parish so large that it required him to use an aeroplane to discharge his duties, such as performing funeral services, mediating between parishioners or even serving as an air ambulance. In spite of its brevity and perceived insignificance as a work of cinema, it is nonetheless an important milestone in Kubrick’s career, perhaps even the most crucial of all. 

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The Wes Craven Retrospective: Deadly Blessing (1981)

As the 1970s were coming to an end, the cultural flavour of genre filmmaking was also undergoing some changes. The rogue and unrestrained atmosphere of exploitation films was shifting towards something more aesthetically refined and anchored more decisively in what was happening in mainstream cinema of the time, a post-nouvelle vague, iconoclastic, self-aware recalibration. Having completed The Last House On The Left and The Hills Have Eyes, both revered as exploitation classics, Wes Craven’s filmmaking was also signalling he was ready to evolve his style into something else entirely.  

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