Michael Haneke on his Cannes 2000 contribution Code Inconnu and his next film Die Klavierspielerin with Isabelle Huppert that started shooting in August
After making four Austrian feature films, Code Inconnu is your first French production. What moved you to make this film?
MICHAEL HANEKE: It all started with Juliette Binoche, who called one day and asked if we could work together. I've always wanted to make a
film about modern-day migration, which will be the main theme of this century. There was a great deal of migration at the
end of antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages, and now it's happening again as a result of different factors, though
in both cases, the primary reasons were and are economic, the disparity between rich and poor. Many Austrians aren't happy
about it, but it's unavoidable. There are already two cities in Europe where this fact is obvious, and where a truly multicultural
society has developed. One of them is Paris. After Juliette asked me if we could work together, I asked myself, what can I
as a non-Frenchman say about France that a French citizen couldn't say better. And that fit well with this constellation:
I, as a foreigner, and the topic of being from another country. I spent several months in Paris doing research, and the result
was this screenplay.
What were the differences between the working conditions for you as a director in Paris and your experience in Austria?
MICHAEL HANEKE: Basically, there are good and bad people in both places. For me, the difference was of course the fact that filming in a language
you don't speak perfectly is much more difficult. A great deal more concentration is necessary to be able to take advantage
of all your possibilities. And that was the difference that caused a certain amount of stress.
But you wrote the screenplay in German.
MICHAEL HANEKE: Of course! It was then translated, and I worked together with the translator, going over it sentence by sentence. I think
that I speak French well enough to say whether a translation is correct.
Language or the difficulties involved in communication is an important topic in your film?
MICHAEL HANEKE: Most of the film is in French, but a total of one third of the dialog is in other languages, Romanian, an African dialect
spoken in Mali, and sign language. As in all of my films, the main issue is the difficulties involved in interpersonal communication.
Juliette Binoche, the female lead, is both a great actress and a star.
What significance did that have for you?
MICHAEL HANEKE: None at all. It was just like working with any other actor. She's very professional, but good actors always are. And she's
an inquisitive actress. Working with her was just like working with any other actor, interesting and enriching.
The film's dramatic elements are very radical and quite different from those in your earlier works. What interested you about
its narrative structure, which is a result of the continuous tracking shots?
MICHAEL HANEKE: My other films also contain a number of scenes filmed in a single shot. In other words, I've always tended in that direction.
As in all of my films, Code Inconnu deals with the question of whether it's possible at all to reproduce reality in a film
or whether the intention of presenting reality as truth isn't a lie from the very beginning. Excluding montage removes at
least part of the manipulation. In other words, I'm forced to shoot a scene in realtime without having the opportunity to
shorten or lengthen the continuous time frame, as is possible with montage.
Was there a great deal of rehearsal for these long scenes?
MICHAEL HANEKE: There is one scene we rehearsed very precisely. The ten-minute opening sequence on the Boulevard in which 200 extras and all
the actors appear was rehearsed for two days. There is another scene with a number of extras in a restaurant, which is about
the same length, which we rehearsed for an entire day, and shooting took a day. Otherwise, we worked in a normal way.
Where would you place Code Inconnu among your previous films?
MICHAEL HANEKE: I can't do that, that's a job for others. Interpreting or categorizing your own work is always difficult. I refuse to do it,
because you usually get yourself into hot water as a result. But in my opinion, a father loves all his children equally, though
the youngest is always the most important at the moment. On the other hand, some common features are obvious. Such as the
criticism of the way contemporary reality is portrayed in film. That's an especially important part of Benny's Video and Funny
Games, and also, due to the reduction of form in Der Siebente Kontinent, that isn't a naturalistic film either. That's a type
of film which always lives in quotation marks, so to speak. And because that's really the issue I'm thinking of, that it's
a sine qua non for every filmmaker in the age of media manipulation. I can't take anybody quite seriously if their work doesn't
reflect that. You can't act as if you were still in the 19th century and as if reality could be reproduced in its entirety.
That's absurd. But that's what approximately 90 percent of all directors do. People want to be reassured, not forced to think.
But the purpose of art has always been to question the status quo.
In that light, one could say that all your films are actually highly political.
MICHAEL HANEKE: That depends on how you define political - if your definition is rather broad, I'd say yes. But my films have never supported
the interests of any political party, that has always bored me. Not only that, I think that's also a contradiction in terms.
Whoever feels an obligation to truth can't commit themselves to a party line. A central theme in Code Inconnu is xenophobia.
But that isn't a political issue, it's humanistic, a moral question, in my opinion. Xenophobia results from a mixture of stupidity
and fear. The only way to counteract it is to try to enlighten people a little and, on the other hand, expose the people who
want to profit from it.
In Cannes at the moment, you're probably being confronted with a number of questions about the political situation in
MICHAEL HANEKE: Of course! When it was officially announced on the radio and on television yesterday that Code Inconnu was included in the
competition, they called me "the anti-fascist Austrian director". I've never made a secret of my thoughts and have always
expressed my opinions as a politically mature citizen.
You also received an invitation from the French Minister of Culture.
MICHAEL HANEKE: There were several Austrians there - I just happened to be the filmmaker. The thing was, what can we or they do to help
the other Austria. And I strongly expressed my opinion that the intellectuals and artists shouldn't boycott Austria, they
should come here and make their protest known here. If they don't come, people won't hear them, and the only one who will
benefit from that is Mr. Haider.
Your next feature film will be an Austrian production based on Elfriede Jelinek's novel Die Klavierspielerin. You've been thinking about this project for some time now. Why is this the right time?
MICHAEL HANEKE: I wrote the screenplay at the time and intended to make the film myself. That didn't work out for a number of reasons. Then
Paulus Manker became interested and asked me if I would write the screenplay for him, which I did. Unfortunately, it sat there
for almost ten years. Meanwhile the rights have expired. And then Veit Heiduschka of Wega-Film asked me if I'd like to make
the film after all. He also talked to Elfriede Jelinek, and she thought that would be a good idea. And, well, now that's going
to happen. From the very beginning, I said that I'd do it only if Isabelle Huppert were involved.
When will shooting begin?
MICHAEL HANEKE: In August. Shooting will be mixed, in other words, the three main actors are French and the rest-there will be a number of
actors with parts of various size-they will all be from here. And there will be two original versions, so to speak, one in
French and one in German. We plan to shoot in Vienna for three months. It will be a long and difficult film and at least 2
1/2 hours in length.
This will be your first film for theatrical release which is based on a literary work.
MICHAEL HANEKE: It is, so to speak, a psychodrama, but without the explanations typical of a psychodrama. I've always avoided making film
versions of literary works because the characters' behavior is justified and analyzed in most classic novels. That is exactly
what I always argue against in films. And Jelinek doesn't do that. In Elfriede Jelinek's works, there is a list of psychological
realities, but no justifications. And that's what this film will have that's where it will get its main stimulus. It
won't tell people how to understand it.
Interview: Karin Schiefer