«Of course the point isn't whether the boy's guilty of something or not, but how I deal with the fact that someone has suffered
as a result of my actions. We're all constantly guilty of something, whether it's intentional or unintentional. The problems
involved with guilt are extremely complicated. Guilt can't normally be defined so easily. Still you have to live with it and
Michael Haneke about his new film Caché. Haneke's eighth feature film starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche premiered in Cannes' competition on May 14.
Time of the Wolf and The Piano Teacher are projects which took a long time to make. With Caché everything seems to have happened a lot faster.
MICHAEL HANEKE: Time of the Wolf was an expensive film, and finding financing for it was accordingly difficult. Thanks to the success of The Piano Teacher we were able to find the necessary funds. I was in the process of writing Caché when 9/11 happened, and I said to myself, if we don't react to that with Time of the Wolf, then when? After that I finished Caché, but then put it on the back burner and made Time of the Wolf first. Caché was originally planned as a purely French film, but after the problems with Canal+, the financing didn't come together as
planned. Margaret Menegoz of Les Films du Losange set it up as an international co-production, and that worked. To be precise
I should have made Caché a year ago.
September 11th as a point of departure in Caché can't completely be ruled out. The simmering fear of an a threat you can't quite put your
finger on, is that a theme?
MICHAEL HANEKE: September 11th was a concrete event, Caché doesn't necessarily have a topical reference. It's a film about the question of how guilt is dealt with. That's a theme which
is always topical, or never, depending on how you look at it. Time of the Wolf wasn't a direct reaction to it either, I wrote that about ten years ago, long before 9/11, but the story became more relevant
as a result. The fact that today's certainties can change tomorrow, that unforeseen events can trigger things which were simmering
below the surface is an important part of cinema, especially in films with thriller elements.
The war in Algeria, though mentioned only briefly, plays an important role in the conflict depicted in Caché. Was that meant to be a reference to a sore spot in French history which isn't discussed?
MICHAEL HANEKE: I don't want to call too much attention to this issue, because I don't want the film to be regarded primarily in that light
at Cannes. It's only an element which supplies a framework. During preparations before shooting Caché I learned about this massacre in a documentary on arte, it took place in Paris in 1961, and about 200 Arabs were shot or
thrown into the Seine, and it wasn't mentioned for four decades. I made use of this incident because it fits in a horrible
way. You could find a similar story in any country, even though it took place at a different time. There's always a collective
guilt which can be connected to a personal story, and that's how I want this film to be understood.
The main theme of Caché is the manner guilt is dealt with. Can you speak of guilt with a six-year-old?
MICHAEL HANEKE: Of course the point isn't whether the boy's guilty of something or not, but how I deal with the fact that someone has suffered
as a result of my actions. We're all constantly guilty of something, whether it's intentional or unintentional. In Code Inconnu there's the first scene where the black African sticks up for the Romanian beggar woman, and as a result he's put in jail
and she's deported. Is he guilty of something or not? The problems involved with guilt are extremely complicated. It's not
that I intentionally did something bad and then I'm definitely guilty of something. Guilt can't normally be defined so easily.
Still you have to live with it and the consequences.
Does Caché have a great deal to do with forgetting and suppressing?
MICHAEL HANEKE: Yes, we all live with that. Just like the way Georges takes two sleeping pills at the end and pulls the blanket over his head,
that's the way for example we deal with our collective guilt relating to the Third World. At worst we have a moral tummy ache,
then we donate some money to a charity and believe that we've done our part, and that's what this film's about.
Georges closes the curtains and pulls the blanket over his head, was this also a moment of introspection?
MICHAEL HANEKE: I don't know about that. The viewer can decide for himself. The film's wide open, even in light of what happens afterward.
As is the case with all my films, it can be interpreted in a number of different ways, though I always try to keep things
open for the viewer's own ideas about what happens next, and I hope that he does wonder how it continues.
When someone watches a thriller, they want to have the solution at the end. You refuse to provide it.
MICHAEL HANEKE: That's the reason why genre films are so successful: It can shake up the viewers for two hours, then they're calmed down when
they leave the theater. And the viewers pay for this arrangement. Considering the world as it is I think that's a little irresponsible.
As a result our need for diversion is satisfied, but there's potential to make more of it, and by refusing to calm the viewers
down, the barb stays in their heads. In any case that's my intention, with all my films. But I use classic genre means for
the story itself.
Another element that recurs in your films is the reflection on film as a medium. In Caché you create a certain kind of tension
by interweaving a voyeuristic camera and a narrative camera.
MICHAEL HANEKE: Illustrating the questionable aspect of how cinema claims to represent reality for the audience is important to me. As a movie
audience we know that it's not real. But there's a difference between knowing something and feeling it. For that reason this
form of self-reflection is indispensable. In literature no serious author these days would claim that he's reproducing reality
he always reflects on the means he uses in his work. Cinema should do the same thing, if it's intended to be an art form.
If I just wanted to make use of a mechanism for diversion, leaving all that out would be legitimate. At the same time however
that's a different kind of cinema than 90% of what's made these days.
How is the switch between these two camera levels done technically?
MICHAEL HANEKE: We shot everything in high definition. That was extremely difficult for me, because it was the first time I've shot a film
on video, and technically these cameras aren't very advanced. You can't work as precisely with a video camera compared to
a film camera. Post-production involved a lot of laborious work, I've never seen a film as many times as this one, there were
constant corrections, including in the sound. I swore that I wouldn't shoot on video for the next ten years. But you should
never say never, because video's unfortunately the future of film, maybe by then the technology will be more mature, a lot
has happened in the last few years.
Which parts of the film were shot in Vienna?
MICHAEL HANEKE: All the interior shots in Georges' house and Majid's publicly subsidized apartment the exteriors were done in France. The
building's staircase and the protagonist's street were reconstructed in Vienna for continuity's sake. When watching the film,
no one would ever suspect that shooting was split up, it all fits together extremely well. That meant a lot of work – Christoph
Kanter did a great job with that and worked with a great deal of skill and enthusiasm. The amount of time was about even,
possibly a little more in Vienna than Paris, as the major scenes with dialog were all interiors.
How did you happen to work with Daniel Auteuil?
MICHAEL HANEKE: A while ago we met through a common friend and both said that we'd like to work together sometime. After that I wrote the
screenplay for Caché with him as the male lead in the back of my mind, similar to what I did with Juliette Binoche for Code Inconnu. I was extremely happy that Juliette Binoche was willing to appear in her role in Caché, although it's not really a lead.
Interview: Karin Schiefer