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Michael H: Profession Director

Michael H: Profession Director

By Ben Nicholson • June 10th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 3/5
MICHAEL H. PROFESSION: DIRECTOR (DOCUMENTARY)
Artificial Eye

Release date: June 10th, 2013
Running time: 92 minutes

Country of origin: Austria/French
Original language: German and French

Writer and director: Yves Montmayeur

Cast: Michael Haneke, Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant

Michael H: Profession Director

I vividly recall the first occasion I encountered the work of Austrian auteur, Michael Haneke. I’d barely even heard his name before but a film called Funny Games (1997) came highly recommended and I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. To say the next couple of hours were pleasurable would doubtless be misleading, but I was totally transfixed. I remember the deeply unnerving effect the film’s antagonistic duo had on me from their first scene, especially when set amidst the context of an overwhelmingly threatening atmosphere.

There’s a moment in which something utterly unexpected happens – completely subverting the realism apparent in the rest of the piece – in which I actually felt sick to my stomach. Not because it was gruesome, but due to the loop for which Haneke had just thrown me. This was a filmmaker I immediately knew I could get behind.

In Michael H. Profession: Director, Yves Montmayeur attempts to do just that; get behind the great director. Having wielded the camera for DVD extras on an array of Haneke’s films, his access has allowed him to put together a study charting much of the auteur’s career. Included clips range from early endeavours such as Benny’s Video (1992) and The Seventh Continent (1989) to his more recent The White Ribbon (2009) and Amour (2012).

Opening with a fantastic sequence in which the director plays out a rehearsal of Amour’s dream sequence in the place of his leading actor, the real joy of this documentary comes in getting to watch a master craftsman at work. Through sneak peeks and a combination of talking heads with the man himself and actors that have collaborated with him over the years, a portrait is slowly painted of how he is and how he works.
Michael H: Profession Director

Given that Haneke’s renowned for his grim storylines, ascetic approach and unflinching eye, this documentary provides video evidence that he’s not the cold, harsh figure audiences might naturally assume. Montmayeur seems to have more than enough footage of him laughing and joking around on set even if actor Jean-Louis Trintignant jocularly points out that the director might have fun on the set, but the cast and crew don’t.

A man with unwavering vision, his attention to detail is meticulous and his commitment to the realism of each scene absolute. While shooting The White Ribbon he steps in to precisely work through the rising anger levels of a character; during the filming of the wonderful 8-minute argument sequence early in Code Unknown (2000) he launches into berating an actor playing a minor character for an unbelievable reaction. The camera also follows him as he works further with actors taking a class of aspiring students in Vienna. Here, he utilises the works of Chekhov, as he feels that they will always be too difficult for the pupils and thus push them and aid in their growth.

It’s all fascinating enough but the one thing that holds back this profile from being a real revelation is the omission of discussion of the themes in Haneke’s work; though this is Michael H: Profession Directorcategorically not Montmayeur’s fault. This ambiguity is one of the facets that engenders him to audiences and makes him such a compelling and vital presence in world cinema. The challenging nature of his creations, and that they are left open to interpretation, only heightens cinema-goers engagement with, and enjoyment of, them.

Because of this, Haneke’s always reticent when pushed to speak about the theories surrounding his work and is absolutely averse to ‘interpreting himself’. It’s a perfectly valid line to take but does mean that pulling back the curtain on the man is difficult. In trying to ascertain the reason that he wanted to make a particular film next, or why a certain subject was interesting or important to him, Montmayeur is met only with reluctance to speak.

Still, this is something that limits the potential of Michael H. a little rather than derailing it. Montmayeur has provided some great behind-the-scenes footage that will be of great interest to fans of a 71-year-old director and those new to his work. Haneke is growing in stature with every film he makes and it’s great to get the chance to see him on set and hear how his actors consider him – “he’s a genius.”

Michael H: Profession Director

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.

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