If you want to see good, compelling, thrilling, powerful images and stories, go see the films of this Austrian auteur, who, in my opinion, is one of the greatest and most interesting foreign film directors I have ever encountered.
This is chiefly because Haneke's films are the kind of amazing horror movies that don't rely on gore and monsters, or other tricks, but most times on just the ordinary. Haneke understands in a Hitchcockian way how to create scary and suspensful movies without all the usual Hollywood fanfare and is usually 100 times better at it.
SEVENTH CONTINENT (1989) is based on a true story that Haneke read in the newspaper about a family of three, a mother, father and daughter who were found dead in their home. Police investigated their murders, trying to find a suspect and a cause but Haneke isn't concerned with suspects or causes. He isn't a sleuth. Haneke is more concerned with consequences and watching them play out. He doesn't ask why. He asks rather what and how.
Haneke enjoys one-shots, or long continuous camera takes with no edits or cutaways but just rather lingering on some scene. Haneke likes to sit and stare and simply observe, whether it's three people sitting in a sedan, as it's going through a car wash, or it's the waves crashing on a dreamy, hazily-shot Australian beach. Haneke lingers, as if to force his audiences to absorb the images like a sponge.
Haneke fades to black between each of his scenes, and, like life, he can go from a very dramatic, actor-driven scene where there's strong dialogue and great emotional tension to a scene where you never even see an actor's face or a camera move, where you're just glaring at legs in a gym hopping over a balance beam.
Haneke doesn't employ music on his soundtrack. He instead contructs riveting quiet moments that draws you in, usually capped with very ironical lines, lines that may seem out of the blue but that are funny in that they're part of the mundane routine that is life.
Anna is an opthalmologist who's becoming increasingly detached. Her husband Georg works at a boring job. Their daughter Eva tells her teacher at school she's blind. There are moments when each character feels lonely. What progresses is told in three parts in which we watch the family eat, sleep and work, as they walk around like zombies, having a superficially great upper middle-class existence, but all the while dead inside.
But as much as Haneke hates editing, he at once will have sequences, some that are as much as 15 minutes long in which there are no wide-shots, but just close-up after close-up of hands and feet doing various things, getting dressed, eating cereal or taking a sledgehammer to an aquarium.
BENNY'S VIDEO (1992) sets the stage for what would become a signature for the rest of Haneke's films, horrible crimes that aren't explained but shows us so completely the darkness that lies within humanity.
The film starts with a home video of a pig, a huge pig getting shot in the head with a butcher's gun. That video we learn was shot by the father of a young teenage boy named Benny who has several video cameras, one of which he has set-up to spy on people on the street. Benny watches the pig video over and over, and even in slow motion. He has a morbid fascination with it.
Horrorful screams, blood scraped across the floor, and even after he knows that he's done something evil, Benny merely sits and eats some yogurt. His parents gone, he yaks on the telephone while in the buff. He treats things so matter-of-factly that there is no explanation except that Benny is a living, breathing sociopath.
71 FRAGMENTS (1994) is probably my favorite of Haneke's movies, probably because it deals with the television culture. A story on the TV news is in fact where Haneke got the idea for this film.
Haneke picks five days out of the autumn of 1993 and shows us the different TV news coverages of those days. We see reports on the war in Somalia, conflicts between Arabs and Israelis, atrocities by Milosevic, and even Michael Jackson's first child molestation case. You see all of this and you think that it's all unrelated, but what Haneke does is weave them together and show us how they are all connected, and he does so in such a smart way.
Apart from the TV news, though, Haneke introduces us to a series of separate characters whose lives will converge in a tragic way. He illuminates, at the same time, the senselessness of all the violence. As with his other films, he allows us to feel the desperate situations that people find themselves in. We see the cracks and pressures of a society that's at times on the verge of buckling or completely destroying itself.
FUNNY GAMES (1998) is by far Haneke's most tortuous and most difficult film to watch. Arno Kitsch, who played Benny in Haneke's 1992 film, returns as a psychopath who along with another unidentified teenage boy kidnaps a family, the parents of which are similarly named Anna and Georg.
The two kidnappers, who after their home invasion go by several alias names like Beavis and Butthead, proceed to play games with their hostages. Scary as Hell, Haneke builds suspense with the use of sounds and terrorizes us most of the time with what you're not shown. The game "Kitty in the Bag" is perfect symbolism as the game involves a bag being placed over your head while unspeakable things are done around you.
But, Haneke plays with his viewers by having Kitsch's character talk to the camera and better than Adam Sandler's "Click" can control the universe with a remote control. One of the best horror films I've ever seen.
CODE UNKNOWN (2000) is probably the worst of Haneke's movies. Even I couldn't understand it. The film stars Oscar Award-winning actress Juliette Binoche as Anne an actress and her husband Georg, a war photographer who has just returned from Kosovo. The film then interweaves in a Robert Altman way various other characters.
The head and tail ends involve deaf children playing charades, but why? There are interesting and dramatic scenes like when Anne and Georg are in a grocery store arguing about abortion, as well as a scene on a subway where Anne is harassed by a French Arab teen but the film has no point and is lot less directionless than Haneke's previous and seems more vague than it should, too incomplete a tale of several journeys.
PIANO TEACHER (2002) is the sexiest of Haneke's films and the most unlike film he's made, meaning it was not an idea that Haneke wrote, and the style and structure is different from anything he's done previously. No long one-shots, empty soundtrack, constant fading to black. No, this movie is not about the minutia that surround tragedy. It's more about life being like music.
Based on Nobel Prize-winning author Elfrieda Jelinek's novel, this movie is about a sexually repressed, lonely woman who lives with her mother, watches porn, urinates next to a car while two people are having sex inside and fondles one of her students in a public restroom.
This film is deeply disturbing and more intimate to the hidden thoughts of a woman than films I've seen of recent. But, I loved it.
TIME OF THE WOLF (2003) imagines what would become of survivors after some kind of apocalypse. A family of four goes to a summer home for refuge, but indigents have taken it over. The father is shot dead and the film then echoes "The English Patient" or "Strayed" or even "Diary of Anne Frank" where a family must take shelter and stay in hiding and ravage for whatever food and supplies they can in order to live.
Haneke here is a harbinger of what the initial fears were inside the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina with poor and hungry refugees of a disaster trapped in an unsupported structure. Violence breaks out including thefts, rapes, and murders, in which people go from stir crazy to outright savages.