Sunday, January 20, 2008

2 Films by Michael Haneke

I watched two films by Michael Haneke last night with my girlfriend. I like sometimes to sit and watch several things by the same director, especially one as put together as Haneke. I'd only seen one of his films before, FUNNY GAMES (the original version), and liked it a lot.



First we watched CACHE. This film is about a couple (played by Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil) who realized they are being taped by surveillance cameras. The tapes are left at their house wrapped in a child's drawings, such as of a child head vomiting blood. There's a lot of interesting perspective work in the film. The first shot is of the front of an apartment in a street and it sits static for several minutes before you realize you are watching one of the surveillance tapes. There is a lot of strange, Lynchian energy in the film: particularly from the LOST HIGHWAY-esque premise, but also from the clean long shots and the stylized settings and the interspersing of short and long takes, as well as the fact that a lot of the film is left open-ended. I like open-ended films, especially mysteries. I'd rather have less questions answered and more to think about rather than "know" why everything happens. Things continue to get more strange and miscontrued as the film continues, and the way it ends leaves you even more so wondering what exactly just happened. Overall, an absorbing movie. I enjoyed it.



The second Haneke film we watched was THE PIANO TEACHER, which I'd heard good things about, but didn't know anything about the film other than it is about a piano teacher's student trying to seduce her. Could be material for boring over-sexualized romance crap, but this movie went any way but the one you might expect from it. There was never a moment that I wasn't fully attentive to what was happening on screen, and I was continually surprised by the way Haneke twisted what was going on, making a film that is unlike any I've ever seen. This is another thing I think Haneke has in common with Lynch: they set up an expectation (in Lynch by using noir and 50's style campiness) and continue to turn it further and further on its head, not for the sake of exploitation, but in a way that feels genuine and fresh to the screen. This film is definitely rarely what you expect of it, is not "precious" in execution, does not make you feel like you might think "shit, I am watching this because it's foreign and I'm supposed to like it," is genuinely different than most any other movie I've seen and for honest-seeming reasons, is fun to watch. The same things could be said of CACHE.

I think one of the most interesting things about Haneke's stuff (other than the excellence of his shots and development of the narrative) is the way it is edited. He very rarely leaves extraneous material in. He cuts out of scenes, especially the most dramatic ones, early, so that it doesn't have a chance to get stale or boring. You often want more. This displeases many people. Many scenes, particularly the ending shots of both films we saw, end seemingly abruptly, in the middle of the upswing. I like that. It lets the film go on after the film is over. The only times he seems to use long takes is in particularly awkward moments, or in ones that you can't quite figure out why they are there, as if he's zooming deeper and deeper into a bruise or a flat panel. Eventually the texture emerges. And then just as quickly he cuts away.

Writing could benefit from using these kind of techniques. As I've said before, I don't think there's ever been a great literature-based companion to the work of Lynch, and Haneke is probably in the same boat. But I think there's definitely something in these works to be mined: techniques that haven't been put quite to use yet in language. There are many that touch on it, such as some stuff by Robbe-Grillet, particularly JEALOUSY, which I really like, and definitely some Kafka, and occasionally in modern writers like Brian Evenson, Jose Saramago, David Markson and even David Foster Wallace (particularly in OBLIVION), but none that get at it the way I would like to.

I think I want my NEXT BOOK to be OF THIS NATURE. I've begun to think about WHAT I WANT TO DO but I don't know exactly WHERE IT WILL COME FROM. I've been relaxing the past week. No particular ideas drumming. Though watching this kind of stuff makes me feel READY TO RECEIVE, I guess, I think. I don't know why I'm saying it all like this, but okay.

5 comments:

Tao Lin said...

i liked the piano teacher a lot

it's based off the novel by the woman who won the nobel prize but didn't go to the reception because she said she had social anxiety, i read about 30 pages of the novel before stopping

i like the ending of the piano teacher a lot, i got a little bored in the second half of cache, i didn't care anymore what happened

BLAKE BUTLER said...

i agree, i liked piano teacher more, especially the ending.

cache i liked more in theory than totally in execution. i think it explained a little more than i wanted which let some pressure off. but i still liked the idea behind it.

i want to see his version of kafka's the castle. have you seen that?

Tao Lin said...

i have not seen the castle by him, i didn't know about that

i liked the theory of cache too i think

maybe if he ended it earlier and didn't have so many quiet parts in the end, it gave almost too much time for me to think and i feel like i thought about it as much as i could while the screen was still showing...something

the part when the boy first showed in the video was scary to me it made me feel like when i read in some murakami novel that the main character looked out a window and saw himself in another building having sex with a woman, i felt scared then also

Ani said...

I was just about to ask if you finished reading After Dark yet? I think Murakami could be close to something Lynchesque, but not in the way you might expect. Or something else I'm not clever enough to explain. Anyway, I'm interested to hear what you think of After Dark when you finish. I'm adding Haneke to my list of stuff to watch.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

ani: i actually got sidetracked from after dark. i'm going to come back to it. i've read several other murakami books. he is so amorphous to me. i like it but i don't know why. i've heard such mixed reviews of after dark. i'm still going to read it, my head just wobbles a bit.