“I do not be­lieve I am a pes­simist” – di­rec­tor Michael Haneke on The White Rib­bon

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Weekly Guide To Entertainment Friday 13.11.2009 -

MY WORD. It seems high cul­ture can still in­flame the masses. To get into Lon­don’s May­fair Ho­tel, where I am to in­ter­view Michael Haneke, the Aus­trian di­rec­tor of a dozen as­cetic mas­ter­pieces, I have to force my way past a le­gion of pa­parazzi pho­tog­ra­phers and an in­tense com­mando of ea­ger young au­to­graph hun­ters.

“Oi, Mickey. Over ’ ere,” they will, no doubt, shortly be bel­low­ing. “Show us your harsh post-Marx­ist cri­tique on con­tem­po­rary bour­geois hypocrisies.”

Sadly, it turns out that the crowd is ac­tu­ally hop­ing to catch a glimpse of Ashley Cole and Rio Fer­di­nand. The foot­ballers have just pro­duced a lads’ movie called Dead Man Run­ning and are hold­ing their press jun­ket in the hangar be­neath the stark room where Mr Haneke sits wait­ing with his in­ter­preter.

The di­rec­tor has flown in from Vi­enna to dis­cuss his as­ton­ish­ingly dense and res­o­nant new film, The White Rib­bon.

“Yes. I do live in Vi­enna. Though I work a great deal in Paris too,” he says. “I sup­pose where I re­ally live is Haneke­land.”

On the ev­i­dence of his films, that must be a rather fright­en­ing coun­try. “I don’t think so. That is not how I see it.”

It looks as if he’s brought Haneke­land with him. Dressed en­tirely in black, his hair and beard a ghostly ashen, he sits in the mid­dle of a huge room with a wide field of win­dow im­me­di­ately be­hind him. The in­ter­preter, who is also wear­ing dark clothes, po­si­tions him­self at a right an­gle to both in­ter­viewer and di­rec­tor. Any­body who has sat through a Haneke film such as Funny Games, Hid­den or Code Un­known will, just read­ing th­ese words, ap­pre­ci­ate the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of this com­bi­na­tion of rit­ual and ex­pec­ta­tion. It is time to be­gin. “I don’t want to ex­plain any­thing about my films,” Haneke re­sponds to my open­ing par­ries. Yet peo­ple must of­ten ask him for such explanations. Haneke’s films are renowned for of­fer­ing only the most oblique so­lu­tions to their many twisty co­nun­drums. In Hid­den (2005), Daniel Au­teuil and Juli­ette Binoche never quite un­ravel the rea­son why sur­veil­lance tapes of their house have been mailed through their let­ter­box. In The White Rib­bon a num­ber of an­ti­so­cial acts – the burn­ing of a barn, the trip­ping-up of a horse – trou­ble the cit­i­zens of a Ger­man town in the months be­fore the first World War. It is giv­ing lit­tle away to say that Her­cule Poirot is con­spic­u­ous by his ab­sence in the fi­nal reels.

“It is not a mat­ter of frus­tra­tion that peo­ple al­ways ask me for the so­lu­tion,” he says. “They have been ed­u­cated to ex­pect an­swers, even be­fore the ques­tions come along. It’s the TV prin­ci­ple. You of­fer three pos­si­ble an­swers be­fore the ques­tions come to re­lax and calm the au­di­ence. The pro­duc­tive thing to do is to un­der­mine those ex­pec­ta­tions.”

We are, how­ever, of­fered a clue as to The White Rib­bon’s mean­ing. Be­fore the action be­gins, the nar­ra­tor tells us that what we see may help us ex­plain “what came af­ter”. The younger peo­ple in the film – of­ten mis­treated and ig­nored – are of an age to be­come Nazis in a few decades time. So the film is about the

I don’t look at my old films. You just see the mis­takes if you do that. I am not in­ter­ested in my own past. I am in­ter­ested in my fu­ture” – Michael Haneke (right) and top right a scene from The White Rib­bon ( Das Weiße Band)

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