Michael Haneke Makes It Hurt So Good

Michael Haneke Makes It Hurt So Good (photo)

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“Why so glum, chum?”

It’s the first question I really wanted to ask 67-year-old Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, whose provocative social dramas are fueled by some of the bleakest, most distressing subject matter in world cinema today. Whether it’s the sadomasochistic student-tutor romance in “The Piano Teacher,” the relentlessly brutal critique of violence as entertainment in his meta-horror “Funny Games” (and his shot-for-shot U.S. remake, which gave the finger to Hollywood by mocking it with Hollywood financing), or the accusations of bloodlust against his own audience in his allegorical masterpiece “Caché,” Haneke’s arthouse miserablism certainly doesn’t inspire hope in the goodness of mankind. But maybe inspiring thought, self-reflection and debate demands that cinema hurt so good.

The 2009 jury at Cannes certainly believed so. Winner of this year’s Palme d’Or (and now nominated for a Golden Globe), “The White Ribbon” finds Haneke returning to his German roots. Staged in a Protestant village in northern Deutschland just before World War I, the film uses the historical framework of fascism and terrorism to depict how any community could easily turn against itself. Mysterious accidents begin to appear like crimes (arson, abduction, assault and assorted sabotages), and could it be that the children are to blame, retaliating against the verbal, physical and spiritual abuse wrought by the adults in power? With the help of a translator, I chatted with Haneke about the similarities between “The White Ribbon” and “Caché,” whether he sees humanity as inherently evil, and why he’s never directed a comedy.

What inspired you to write such a German-specific story?

I chose the context of German fascism because that’s the best-known example of how people can be made receptive to what I call “ideological rat-catchers,” people who are selling their ideologies like this. The film seeks to show the process of how people can be made receptive to such ideologies. It would be a misunderstanding to see the film as simply about the rise of fascism. That would be far too reductive, especially since there’s no single film that could deal with all those causes.

12302009_TheWhiteRibbon2.jpgAs in some of your other films, “The White Ribbon” has mysteries that are never resolved. What attracts you to this idea, setting up audiences to search for clues in vain?

When you pose questions without providing answers, then you’re forcing the audience to reflect on the questions and think about them more seriously. It’s dramatically effective to do that. When a drama works with suspense, it’s the glue that keeps the audience sitting in their seats. For every event that takes place in the film, there are several possible and logical explanations. It’s up to each individual spectator to find the answer for himself.

Some have compared the ambiguities of “The White Ribbon” to “Caché.” The new film concerns an unknown villain who plants a tripwire, setting off a series of antagonistic events. The earlier film also has an unknown villain who instigates hostility, except with strategically delivered videotapes.

After “Caché” came out, there were entire internet forums developed to discuss what the two boys were saying in the schoolyard at the end of the film. Of course, I had to write dialogue for them, but I made sure that no one ever found out what they said. That provides different possible interpretations for the audience. But, especially in “Caché,” the questions that people are looking for an answer to are the least important part of the film. The film grapples with Daniel Auteuil’s character’s guilt and how he’s going to respond to his obligations. That’s far more important than whoever actually sent the videotapes. The tapes are simply a means of creating suspense.

There’s another scene in “Caché” where Juliette Binoche is accused of having an affair with a friend of the family. You can assume that, yes, they’re having an affair, but she claims she isn’t. So it’s up to each of us to make up our mind. So rarely do you actually know where the truth lies. It’s only in mainstream cinema that everything is clear and all problems are resolved. Real life is complicated and contradictory.

12302009_TheWhiteRibbon1.jpgCharacters in your films are often so cruel to one another. If there were no laws governing us, do you see humanity as inherently evil?

Yeah. [laughs] I think everyone is capable of doing absolutely anything. It just depends on the situation they find themselves in. It’s easy for us who are living in such comfortable, privileged surroundings to judge other people and say, “Oh, I would never do that.” To stick with the example of German fascism, where we lived under the Nazis and were told that in order to save the rest of your family, you have to denounce your neighbors — I’m not so sure if I’d be strong enough to oppose them. You never know how you’re going to respond.

You typically take a detached, didactic approach to your subject matter. Would you ever consider making something more personal or even confessional?

No. I always think it’s dangerous to make films that deal with one’s own tummy-aches. I leave that to beginners and dilettantes.

Is this the first feature you’ve shot in black and white?

I made two previous films [for television] that were mostly in black and white, although they did have color scenes in them. The first was a literary adaptation of Joseph Roth’s novel “Rebellion,” and also a drama called “Fräulein.” Both were period pieces.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.