The Oscar season is in full effect, with all kinds of talent out and about, talking to press, and stumping for their films. And as Joaquin Phoenix has learned, if you’re not careful, fiery comments can come back to haunt you. Michael Haneke recently sat in on a discussion panel at THR with filmmakers and writers Judd Apatow, Mark Boal, David Magee, Chris Terrio and John Krasinski, and dropped some interesting criticisms of two celebrated films: “Downfall” and “Schindler’s List.”
Asked about the dangers of humanizing someone like Osama Bin Laden or Adolf Hitler on film, Haneke made his position very clear. “First of all I have to say that I argued with [screenwriter] Bernd Eichinger about the film. I found it both repulsive and dumb,” he said. But Haneke’s dismissal is deeply reasoned on a larger philosophical query on how this material should be approached. “…when you’re dealing with a figure of such a deep and broad historical context, the question is, who are you humanizing, what are you doing with him? You’re creating melodrama, you’re trying to reach your spectators, to move your spectators, but what emotions are you calling on?”
“Responsibility entails enabling your audience to remain independent and free of manipulation,” he continued, adding: “The question is how seriously do I take my viewer, to what extent do I provide him with the opportunity of creating his own opinion, [and] confront the historical context on their own?”
But is there any movie that gets the Holocaust right? “For me, the only film about the Holocaust that, for me, is responsible as a filmmaker is Alain Resnais‘ ‘Night and Fog,’ ” he declared.
In a room full of writers taking on historical moments like “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” Haneke is ballsy but also doesn’t pick on their projects in particular. He’s speaking calmly on a broader context and his own thoughts, and they are undeniably fascinating. But why the moderator chooses to throw to John Krasinski to respond afterward is beyond us (though he handled it like a champ).
Watch the discussion below (Haneke’s quotes start around the 8-minute mark) followed by the (NSFW) scene from “Schindler’s List” and “Night and Fog” in full.