It turns out Michael Haneke does ac­tu­ally have a sense of hu­mour

Michael Haneke on Face­book, karaoke and ac­cu­sa­tions of artis­tic mis­an­thropy Calum Marsh

National Post (Latest Edition) - - WEEKEND POST - 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.

BRIGITTE LA­COMBE

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