It turns out Michael Haneke does actually have a sense of humour
Michael Haneke on Facebook, karaoke and accusations of artistic misanthropy Calum Marsh
Michael Haneke doesn’t have Facebook. He doesn’t use Snapchat, or post Instagram stories, or even tweet – despite the shortlived 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.
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.
As Happy End arrives in theatres across Canada, we sat down with Haneke to discuss his experiences with social media, the trouble with electricity, and how a rousing karaoke scene wound up in his new movie. Q Your films are known to be provocative. What’s the effect of provocation? What do you hope to achieve in provoking an audience?
A I don’t think the provocation you can achieve with a film is very much, frankly. You have to try to do what you can, but don’t overestimate the power of what you’re capable of when making a movie or writing a book. In general, I have very little hope that I can change society.
Q The character of the son in the film is a sort of self-styled provocateur, always trying to disrupt the bourgeois bubble – and yet he’s pretty ineffectual. He isn’t able to accomplish what he sets out to do. Are you telling us we’re beyond hope of change?
A Interesting interpretation. I wasn’t thinking of this, but it’s true. It’s a question of a relationship. Every form of provocation leaves some trace or another in our lives, but it’s really a question of how far it’s taken, how far it goes. In the film he himself says he’s good for nothing – he has no value – and that’s what makes him so deeply unhappy within the family. At the same time, his mother is not happy with him either, and as spectators we have to wonder to what extent she may be responsible for who he is as a character.
Q Is she responsible? Are we doomed to inherit the sins of our parents?
A That’s how it’s always been: we’re 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. Education may be hopeless, but it’s nonetheless necessary.
Q But is there something unique about the current generation? About youth today?
A I can’t compare because I don’t know how it was before. I wasn’t there. In my second last film, The White Ribbon, when I was dealing with the question of education and how it was a century ago, it’s true that I did take some perspective on the matter. But nonetheless: the form may have changed, but it’s still the case that family continues to exist as a neuroses-producing construct, whether you like it or not. And for dramatists, for people working in the dramatic arts, it’s always a fruitful vein to mine, because it’s always producing new forms and new ideas.
Q Has technology changed us at all? Has the internet?
A Probably. Probably these things affect young people more than old, but all of us living in this world are using forms of communication that have totally changed thanks to the internet and digital media, and almost no one, at least in the first world, has been left untouched by that. This is nonjudgemental, you understand. I’m not saying these changes are positive or negative.
Q The film doesn’t take a stance on the internet or social media? It’s crucial to the plot.
A If you’re dealing with society today as an artist, then you have to depict it. That’s simply how things are. Of course, we have no idea how things will develop. We have no idea at all. We are just in the beginning. When the wheel was invented it took hundreds of years before everyone was using it. Now you invent something and in ten years it’s in use all over the world. I believe that never in history has there been a revolution like the one we’re seeing now. And we are still at the beginning.
Q Are we too dependent on technology?
A My fear is what will happen when there’s no electricity. That’s the end of the world. I did a film about this, The Time of the Wolf. It was fifteen years ago and the internet was not at the level that it is now. I asked myself: what would we do if we had no electricity? The whole civilization is gone. A hundred years ago, people had tools to handle life. Now, it’s over. I don’t know why people don’t talk about this more. It’s so normal that electricity is ubiquitous: you flip a switch and it comes on. If suddenly it didn’t work, what would you do? What would you do in a hospital? Or anywhere? Nothing works without electricity. Q And you worry about this. A This makes me fear, this idea. Nobody is thinking about this. It’s so normal that the energy is there and we can use it. This is strange to me. Q Do you use Facebook? A No, no. I did use it a little bit for the research of the film. But no. I have my mail, I have my phone, I send SMS messages. And that’s all. I have no time for this kind of things.
Q What kind of research did you do?
A The research process was long. I read a lot of documents, print-outs – confessions of young people on the internet. It’s amazing. Now the internet has taken over, it’s a religion. There was god before. Now it’s the internet. “I confess to the internet and I hope it will give me absolution.”
Q There’s a wonderful karaoke scene in the film. Do you enjoy karaoke?
A No, no! Absolutely no. I have no idea from karaoke. But I wrote in the script “karaoke scene” – a failed karaoke performance. And then I found the actor, and he has no voice, he is a terrible singer. But he is really physical. So we developed this scene. I think it’s funny.
Q The film is quite funny, generally.
A I agree. It’s my funniest film. I always say the film is a farce.
Q You’re often accused of artistic misanthropy. Do you hate your characters?
A I love all of my characters, otherwise I’d be unable to write their parts. Of course, every person in the world is both good and bad. Every person is capable of anything depending on the situation. It’s the challenge of the dramatist to put them in situations that display their strengths and weaknesses. But it’s extremely boring to write someone who you don’t like.