Michael Haneke: How to politely dislike his movies

December 4, 2009

HanekeRTL Group Chief Executive Gerhard Zeiler came to our U.S. headquarters on Thursday so we could interview him for our Global Media Summit this week. While we waited for our colleagues in London and Germany to beam in remotely, I asked him about what he and other Austrians generally think of Michael Haneke.

Haneke is perhaps Austria’s most well known artist these days, a director whose films (“Cache,” “Code Inconnu,” “Benny’s Video,” “La Pianiste,” “Le Temps du Loup” and others) contain violent and intense episodes combined with queasy comedy that tend to disturb, shock and dismay his fans and his foes. He also enjoys the distinction of having made “Funny Games,” the only film to ever make me physically ill. In terms of his provocative content, think Peter Greenaway, not Steven Spielberg.

Zeiler told me that he used to work for ORF, the Austrian public broadcaster (which just got a cash infusion from Vienna after repeatedly going over budget). Not only did he know Haneke’s work, he was responsible for financing it because it’s a government obligation. As for the movies? He doesn’t like them; the brutality turns him off — so how do you tell people you don’t like the movie that you just bankrolled?

“I tell them, ‘It was very interesting!’” he said.

(Photo: Some people might not like Haneke’s movies, but the Cannes Film Festival’s jury sure does. Reuters)

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