Michael H – Profession: Director: Film Review

Michael H – Profession: Director - P - 2013
The documentary is a respectable and functional piece of work, but a little lacking in substance.

A career-spanning portrait of Michael Haneke, the Austrian auteur behind Oscar-winner "Amour."

LONDON - The reigning world heavyweight champion of old-school European auteur cinema, Michael Haneke gets the full reverential treatment in this serious-minded but ultimately elusive documentary portrait. The French director Yves Montmayeur has shot making-of features on several Haneke productions, giving him impressively close access and a broad historical archive of material.

Montmayeur’s film premiered on Austrian television in February, before Haneke’s Oscar win for his harrowing and hugely acclaimed study of love at the end of life, Amour. It opens in selected UK theaters March 15, with a US festival debut lined up for Tribeca in April. After that, further niche theatrical interest seems possible to capitalize on the buzz around Amour, though the specialist subject matter feels best suited to upscale TV arts slots and home entertainment formats.

Long before Amour, the Austrian-born, Paris-based Haneke was already garlanded with countless awards and Cannes Palme d’Ors for his forensic explorations of violence and neurosis in chilly, unflinching psycho-thrillers such as Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, Hidden and The White Ribbon. Besides picking up the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Amour also earned four further nominations, including Best Screenplay and Best Director. Even so, Hollywood’s blossoming love affair with Haneke does not run both ways. “I have had several offers,” grins the owlish Christopher Lee lookalike during one scene here, “they were all so idiotic.”

Montmayeur examines Haneke’s canon of work in reverse chronological order, intercutting on-set footage with interviews from director and cast. The French screen queens Isabelle Huppert, Juliette Binoche and Beatrice Dalle all hail the great man’s genius, declaring him “totally radical” and drawing parallels with Ingmar Bergman. But Amour co-stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva confess to being traumatized by their shooting experience. “We don’t have fun,” Trintignant smiles thinly. “He has fun.”

In fairness, Haneke’s hands-on directing style comes across here as surprisingly humane and humorous, in stark contrast to his remorselessly harsh, clinically detached films. He swaps jokes and warm embraces with his actors in Paris, and with the drama students he teaches in Vienna. He also gives cordial but guarded interviews to Montmayeur, resisting all attempts to intellectualize his motives or crystallize his messages. Pressed on his enduring fascination with the darker side of human nature, he merely shrugs: “I’m very much afraid of suffering.”

There are funny moments in Profession: Director, including vox pops of Cannes festival viewers reeling from Haneke’s controversial 1997 treatise on screen violence, Funny Games – one calls it “a pile of sophisticated Nazism.” Sadly, Montmayeur does not address any deeper critique of the director’s pessimistic worldview, which some find arid and manipulative. Nor does the film give us even basic details about Haneke’s family background, political views or personal life. Even the most original, uncompromising artists arise from some kind of social and cultural hinterland.

Profession: Director is a respectable and functional piece of work, but a little lacking in substance. It works best as a primer for new fans who have discovered the veteran auteur since Amour, not for long-time devotees looking for deeper insights. Ironically, a dash of Haneke’s brand of icy intellectual rigor might have helped illuminate his own life more.

Venue: London press screening, February 22

Production companies: WildArt Film, Crescendo Films, Les Films du Losange

Producers: Serge Guez, Vincent Lucassen, Ebba Sinzinger

Cast: Michael Haneke, Isabelle Huppert, Juliette Binoche, Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Beatrice Dalle

Director: Yves Montmayeur

Cinematographers: Attila Boa, Yves Montmayeur

Editor: Oliver Neumann

Sales company: WildArt Film

Unrated, 90 minutes