Michael Haneke

National Post (Latest Edition) - - SATURDAY FEATURE - Week­end Post

Michael Haneke doesn’t have Face­book. He doesn’t use Snapchat, or post In­sta­gram sto­ries, or even tweet – de­spite the short-lived pop­u­lar­ity of a par­ody Twit­ter ac­count un­der his name. Haneke sim­ply has “no time for this kind of things,” he ex­plains through a thick Aus­trian ac­cent, over sparkling wa­ter one af­ter­noon dur­ing TIFF. “I have my email, I have my phone, I send SMS. And that’s all,” he says. On those around him he has seen the re­mark­able ef­fect: “There was God be­fore. Now it’s the in­ter­net. ‘I con­fess to the in­ter­net and I hope it will grant me ab­so­lu­tion.’ It’s amaz­ing.”

Haneke’s new fea­ture, the deft and provoca­tive black com­edy Happy End, deals ex­ten­sively with the in­ter­net as re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence, and loathes its lat­est man­i­fes­ta­tions: video live streams and in­stant mes­sag­ing, vi­ral videos and sala­cious chats. But Haneke was not so much com­pelled to ad­dress the ills of so­cial me­dia as obliged to by cir­cum­stance. He felt there was no way around it. “If you are deal­ing with so­ci­ety to­day,” he says, “then you have to de­pict it. This is just how things are.”

So he did his re­search. Scrupu­lously. He fa­mil­iar­ized him­self with the apps and web­sites he’d never or­di­nar­ily touch. He read first-hand ac­counts of the tur­moil suf­fered by young peo­ple on­line. “Prob­a­bly it af­fects young peo­ple more than old,” he says of what he found, “but all of us liv­ing in the world are us­ing forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that have to­tally changed thanks to the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia and al­most no one, at least in the first world, has been left un­touched by that. I be­lieve that never in his­tory has there been a revo­lu­tion like this. And we are just at the be­gin­ning. We have no idea how this will de­velop. We have no idea at all.”

And yet de­spite the nov­elty of our dig­i­tal ob­ses­sions, the pain we bear is the same as ever. Happy End deals ex­ten­sively, too, with a sort of in­ter­gen­er­a­tional con­flict — with the grief and the trauma we each take on and pass down again in turn. For Haneke this is sem­piter­nal. “That’s how it’s al­ways been,” he in­sists. “We are all vic­tims of our up­bring­ing. But at the same time de­spite that we all pos­sess a cer­tain po­ten­tial to some de­gree of lib­er­at­ing our­selves from that past. It’s been the daily drama of hu­man­ity for mil­len­nia.” It’s up to us to dredge our sorry selves out of the muck that we in­herit. Even if, as Haneke be­lieves, our ef­forts will likely be for nought. “Ed­u­ca­tion may be hope­less,” he laughs, “but it’s nonethe­less nec­es­sary.”

This at­ti­tude will hardly sur­prise ad­mir­ers of Haneke’s work. A cer­tain ni­hilism is, af­ter all, his metier. “Fam­ily ex­ists as a neu­rosespro­duc­ing con­struct,” he says at one point, it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter in what con­text — the sen­ti­ment ra­di­ates from deep within ev­ery one of Haneke’s movies. But while con­tempt seems the pre­vail­ing reg­is­ter of so much of his oeu­vre, Happy End in­cluded, Haneke main­tains that he is not con­temp­tu­ous of his char­ac­ters. He doesn’t hate ev­ery­one, as crit­ics of­ten like to claim. “I love all of my char­ac­ters, oth­er­wise I’d be un­able to write them,” he says firmly. “It’s ex­tremely bor­ing to write some­one you don’t like.”

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