Austrian film director and screenwriter, Michael Haneke is one of Europe’s most prominent and controversial auteurs working today. He began his career in television and theatre and it wasn’t until late in his career at the age of 33 that he began working in film, with his 1989 cinematic debut Der siebente Kontinent [The Seventh Continent]. From then on his films have gained much praise and international recognition.
Common themes in Haneke’s dystopian works include discontentment and estrangement experienced by individuals in modern society – namely the European bourgeoisie, the personal suffering and increased disconnection experienced by humankind and the inherent cruelty and violence lying under the surface of modernity. His films are provocative and complex challenges to his audience and rely heavily on his interest in psychology, philosophy, spectatorship, semiotics and violence in the media.
Some of Haneke’s biggest cinematic influences include such European greats as Alfred Hitchcock, Andrei Tarkovsy, Michelangelo Antonioni, Robert Bresson, and Krzysztof Kieslowski and it is clear to see their influences on his visual and narrative style.
Haneke is a provocative yet cerebral filmmaker who believes that cinema’s most important function is to disturb and disorient its viewers, assaulting them out of their habitually passive ways of perceiving reality. The master of enigmatic endings, Haneke is much more interested in “raising questions rather than giving answers”. Haneke’s films are often existential and as such do not provide easy answers, which allow his audience to form their own opinions and question their own perceptions and provide a means of self-reflection.