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Tribeca Review: Anti-Biodoc Delves into the Austere World of Michael Haneke: "true beauty is accuracy" (TRAILER)

Thompson on Hollywood By David D'Arcy | Thompson on Hollywood April 26, 2013 at 1:02PM

You'll get only small fragments of Michael Haneke's biography in "Michael H., Profession Director." Yet you will see how Haneke works. And you'll get a strong dose of how actors feel about the man who forces them to force audiences to confront terrifying emotions.

To be able to write a scene, you have to live it, he says. He means that dramatically, not literally. Childhood, parents, social position, lovers, deaths, divorces still never push their way into the doc – not even in credential-crazed Austria, a place where people flaunt university degrees and family history, especially if it is aristocratic. (Many Austrians also suffer from Waldheimer's Disease, amnesia about the Nazi Era.) One sequence has Haneke stopping the interview in restless frustration when he suspects that he's being asked to interpret what he's put on the screen. 

The questions are understandable. Clips from his work, even from the most familiar films, make you want to turn away from the sheer rawness. Haneke says he goes after truth, and that truth can hurt.

We still learn a lot. Haneke says he made "The White Ribbon" in black and white because the visual memory of that era is in black and white. He calls "Funny Games" a parody of a detective story. Austria, he says, is a country that produces neuroses and culture. "True beauty," he tell us, "is accuracy."

"Whenever you take an ideal and apply it absolutely, you make it inhuman," he says professorially. "That is the root of all terrorism." 

"I want my films to be obscene," the teacher declares. "Obscene is that which transgresses that which is permitted."

There's no critical element to "Michael H. Profession Director," no effort at balance, and the cheering section of actors acknowledges the emotional toll of any Haneke film. This is a documentary for Haneke's many admirers, although anyone who's been put off by his coldness may find the man to be at least a few degrees warmer than assumed. 

Most of the film is in Haneke's native German, the language in which he is most comfortable. Subtitles will keep the doc off American television – it was shown in a 60-minute TV version in the UK. So will the seriousness of the man who says that he takes his audience seriously. Don't be deterred. Seek this one out. 

This article is related to: Michael Haneke, Tribeca Film Festival, Festivals, Reviews

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.