dagNotes: On Micheal Haneke’s early work & Le Temps du Loup
- The Seventh Continent (1989)
- Benny’s Video (1992)
- Funny Games (1997)
These three films are often discussed apart (and the first two rarely at all,) but I like to think of them as a collective attempt at exploring certain themes and techniques. They belong together. They inform each other, I think, and represent a honing of not only a kind of critique of families, of observing violence, of ritual and pleasure, of families and their relationship to society and others, but of style (camera-work, editing, sound and image, writing for the screen). I think the capstone for this work on violence and style ends with Le Temps du Loup (The Time of the Wolf, 2003,) often completely ignored when discussing much of his earlier work. I do believe it’s an important rest in the composition, his body of work, that led to Caché in 2005.
Actually, watching Funny Games, Le Temps Du Loup, and Caché together is immensely rewarding and the middle film absolutely calls for a discussion of the first and the last together. It’s such an important work for him.
I’m re-watching Haneke’s films, beginning with Le Temps du Loup, with Praise. I was worried she wouldn’t like it. She loved it, as disturbing as it is, and was gobsmacked with the beautiful epiphany at the film’s end, something that is missing from his three earlier works.* I refer to the end of the film as an epiphany because, I think, we are presented with a striking solution to the problems the four films explore with the image of Ben, naked, collapsed, exhausted, in the stranger’s arms (this man is a racist nationalist who wanted to murder “the dirty Polack” immigrant in an earlier scene and so scared the shit out of Ben, and everyone else,) being cradled and reassured that he is brave in spite of his failure to sacrifice himself, to self-immolate, to bring about a crazy prophecy of salvation and end not only his pains, but his family’s suffering. There’s a parallel story with Eva, Ben’s sister, and a lone and family-less boy thief, but Ben gets the final scene with the stranger. The two in front of the fire, the camera dollying silently backwards over the rails. The final image of the film is an incredible symbol, arisen from the ashes, so to speak, of the three films I mention above, that end, simply and just as silently with nothing but the debris of death and destruction without epiphany. It’s a warm ending. It’s important to note that these endings are openings and reject closure, as violent as they are. In Le Temps du Loup, Haneke offers us a bit of closure, even if only thematic. For the narrative itself doesn’t provide anything we could think of as closure. After all, Ben is in the arms of a murderous thug who, though acting as a caring proxy-father, is capable of anything and has earlier proven to be rather self-serving and uncaring. It’s an unstable image, a radical image, potentially, violently, harmful, like the fire, both useful and harmful, like the family. Like society. We move away from it before anything else happens. Again, a rejection of closure.
Maybe it’s not a satisfying image: that we endure despite our failed attempts to maintain and to civilize; that we endure our violence, our rituals, our corrupt and unexamined roles in families and communities. At least it’s an image. And after this striking image, something much clearer comes out with his newer films: Caché, The White Ribbon, and Amour. You can tell he studied philosophy and drama. His films are terrifyingly rigorous, self-aware, quiet, composed. One of my all-time favorite directors. I can watch his films over and over.
*I realized that I’ve left out 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994) and Code Unknown (2000), but those two films seem to work together on a kind of narrative experiment that is distinct from the others. I’m not trying to say something definitive about Haneke’s oeuvre, just recognizing something many critics don’t see in their boring debate about cruelty and camera-work in his films.