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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.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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