Violence in Michael Haneke films, which are identified with many provocative elements, always shows a tendency that stuns the audience in terms of the representation of it.
Since his first feature film, The Seventh Continent, The Austrian director conveys the familiar environment for him: the suppressed identity of the European bourgeoisie and the dull relations of modernity. The uncomprimising structure of his films is fed by many factors. Nevertheless one of Haneke’s biggest issues is how violence is presented in conventional media. Through portraying violence with all its shockingness, he emphasizes this terrible phenomenon that we are increasingly being forced to accept as normal today.
It is a vain effort to hope for pleasure from a Haneke film for the audience, who adore the violence stylized with splattered blood and countless effects and normalized with shallow dialogues, and who do not take responsibility for its real-life repercussions. Although Funny Games, which he shot in 1997, is the perfect manifestation of his vision, the scope of this article will be limited to the films Caché (2005), Benny’s Video (1992) and Das Weisse Band (2009).
Caché is one of the first films that comes to mind when considering violence in Michael Haneke films. Haneke’s use of violence in this masterpiece, in which he harshly ridicules Europe’s suppressed culture of exploitation and indifference through an upper-class French family, is also quite unusual.
Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche) contact the police after receiving suspicious videotapes monitoring their home. After inconclusive investigations, Georges becomes suspicious of Majid, the child of a family who served as the housekeeper in his childhood. In the shadow of Georges’ dreams about the past and his inner turmoil, the story is dragged to a terrifying place where the answers are vague…
Michael Haneke’s cinema circles around uncertainty, alienation and bourgeois despotism. Caché is like a distillation of these issues. Georges is a perfect character for the representation of a certain class. He constantly lies to his wife, his relationship with his child is superficial. When he was little, he had thrown Majid out of the house with a bloody lie of a handkerchief, and Algerian Majid’s family was brutally murdered in the 1961 Paris Massacre. With full of horror, Georges refuses to take the blame for what he did. “It’s not a tragedy, is it!” he even shouts…
The structure of the film, which is based on the inability to grasp the ‘truth’, also shows itself in the demonstration of violence. The distance of the camera from the characters is maintained. As we are used to in Haneke films, fixed frames and long shots dominate the narrative. This choice has a critical function: Some things have to flow out of the frame all the time. So, if we don’t turn our heads, does the violence that takes place there disappear? When we see the countries with full of blood on the news, if we change the channel, would everything be alright? Haneke travels around these questions and examines the destruction in the human soul caused by ignoring guilt.
In Caché, physical violence is conveyed in a pure form. We watch for a long time the flutter of the rooster whose head was cut off in Georges’ dream. Unable to withstand George’s psychological pressure any longer, Majid kills himself by slitting his throat in front of him. These two scenes, which are very difficult to digest, take place in an atmosphere that gives an idea about the Haneke cinema. Psychological violence is also obvious: the police rudely break into Majid’s house despite the absence of any evidence. Georges yells at a black teenager at the street. When the tapes keep coming despite Majid’s death, Georges starts blaming his son. In these scenes, Haneke masterfully emphasizes his view on immigrant and minority groups in Europe.
In one of the interesting moments, we see Georges, who witnessed Majid’s shock death, walking out of the cinema in the next scene… It says a lot on demonstration of violence differently from conventional cinema. Audience realize alienating effects that constantly manipulate the image, and the danger of what violence can turn into when it is edited.
Haneke’s cinema does not get along good with television. The corrupting effect of television appears in many of his films; In Caché, its role is to hide. In a scene, we witness the bloody events in the Middle East in the background news. It’s impossible for Georges and Anne to pay attention there. Because Pierrot, the sassy child of the poor family, is missing…
THE WHITE RIBBON: UNDER THE SAME ROOF
Das Weisse Band, 2009 Palme d’Or winner, takes the audience to a Protestant German village on the eve of World War I.
Trying to take a closer look at the seeds of Nazi Germany by questioning the nature of evil, Haneke creates a narrative that generates more questions than answers, similar to his previous film.
It opens with the words, “I don’t know if the story I’m about to tell you is entirely true.” In the events that the village teacher tells by going back to the past, we witness that the peace in the village is gradually deteriorating. The doctor who falls from his horse because of a hidden wire, the shredding of cabbage in the Baroness’s field, a fire in the barn at midnight… As we get to know the people in the village, we actually witness the terrible evil in every house. And it is futile to wait for the events to come to a tidy conclusion.
At the beginning of the film, the narrator insists in his story, “perhaps what I have told may clarify what is going on in this country,” despite the questions that remain unanswered: This statement is like a summary of Haneke’s motivation for making the film.
We can’t get easy victims. The Baron of the village, in his speech to the people, mentions that the culprit is among them. The camera takes a close look at the villagers one by one. It becomes clear who Haneke is accusing: the doctor who fingered his daughter, those who threw the Baron’s child into the river because of a small whistle, those who blinded a mentally ill child, the parents who overwhelm their children with psychological pressure, the priests who lacked compassion… They are all there.
The prevention of the fetish of violence, which is one of the main features of Haneke cinema, appears in The White Ribbon. The camera listens motionlessly from behind the closed door as the priest beats his children with a stick. There is no need to convey anything but the painful cries of children. It makes audience to think about the effect of the psychological and physical violence that pervades every moment on the terrible monster that that nation has turned into in the future.
BENNY’S VIDEO: COLD WATER OF NOTHINGNESS
Benny’s Video, the second part of “Emotional Glaciation Trilogy”, is a lesson in the context of violence in Michael Haneke films.
The film opens with footage of a pig being killed with a shocker. We relive that wild moment over and over. Benny is a typical Haneke character who has completely cut off ties with his family, spends all day on a video tape recorder, watches television frequently, and wanders on the edge of nothingness.
Taking advantage of his family’s absence at the weekend, Benny invites the girl he met at the videotape shop to his home and makes her watch the pig scene. He says that he stole the shock device, even though it has been years since the incident at his family’s farm. After a disturbing conversation, Benny starts making dangerous jokes with his shock device and suddenly kills the girl for no reason.
In this scene, the screen-violence relationship that Haneke especially examined in his first films becomes quite evident. He traps the audience in the view of a camera which is filming Benny’s room. Violence takes place outside the frame. For minutes, we hear the voice of the girl screaming in pain on the ground. Benny enters and exits the frame and strikes to kill her.
In the next scene, we watch Benny calmly eat yogurt… He throws a quilt over the girl and deals with his drawing assignments. Deprivation of the audience from the hidden pleasure of the violence becomes valuable in the scene where Benny cleans the girl’s blood: By showing the bloodied girl for a considerable time, it leads us to focus only on the horrific outcome of the murder.
When his parents know about the situation, they make plans to get rid of the body, either by dismembering the girl or somehow. Since his presence in the neighborhood is dangerous, his mother and Benny decide to take a tourist trip to Egypt. The weight of violence suffocates the audience as they follow the family enjoying the sun there, participating in entertainment, learning backgammon and watching TV silently. When they think the suspicion has disappeared —probably the father took care of the body— they turn back. But the happy family is unaware of the game Haneke will play: The camera that constantly records in Benny’s room also recorded their efforts to get rid of the corpse. The suppressed is back. Benny reports his family to the police. The film leaves the audience with the appearance of the duo at the police station…
Violence In Michael Haneke Films: Choir
But what is the reason for this terrible violence? Benny’s family is financially well off, and we see him spending time with his friends. There is no apparent problem. The film approaches the question through our relationship with the media. Benny, whom we see all the time watching TV, is a video maniac. Trying to make sense of your whole world through a screen has led him to a great nothingness. He goes to the party, ignoring the dead girl in his room. When his father asks why he killed the girl, he replies “I don’t know, to see how it is”.
Still, the film points to much more than the actions of a psychopath. It sets an entire community on fire, similar to what he did in Das Weisse Band. Wide shots that overlook the city, conveys the streets where Benny exists. Everyone has a share in the harmony of this choir. He is just a part of a group that skates in the same circle without stopping, reaching the same place as they turn…
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