The Piano Teacher (2001) marks a departure for Austrian director Michael Haneke. This powerful piece of chamber cinema is first and foremost a virtuoso display piece for actors, a psychological inquiry that ruthlessly yet compassionately illuminates the savage process by which extremes of suppressed emotion wrenchingly mutate through de-sublimation and transposition from the realms of sordid fantasy into the bruising arena of the interpersonal. Previously Haneke’s personal dramas served as often anxiously freefloating perspectives into a broader societal malaise characterised by alienation and moral disorientation. Erika (Isabelle Huppert), the heroine of The Piano Teacher, is in many ways the opposite of a typical Haneke character, or at least her story is approached from the opposite of the director’s usual perspective. While she is indubitably alienated, her angst stems not from being adrift in the depersonalised void of the modern urban environment, but from being imprisoned in a world of her own creation, governed by her own neurotic sensibility. Other Haneke characters, notably the families in The Seventh Continent (1989) and Benny’s Video (1992) have in their own ways attempted withdrawal from or evasion of reality, but the outer world was constantly present as a palpable void, an immanent, unfathomable other as hostile in its indifference and as potentially fatal as outer space in a science fiction thriller.
In The Piano Teacher this void is for the first time absent; Erika’s control over her environment and the extent to which it is shaken and invaded by her much younger, infatuated student comprise the whole of the film’s more conventionally closed world. For the first time, the emotional intensity of relationships is allowed to prevail over the more detachedly analytical question of man’s disconnectedness from his everyday reality. This shift in emphasis marks the apparent termination of a fascinatingly coherent spatial and thematic development that can be followed through each of Haneke’s films to have been released in this part of the world – that is, all of his theatrical features except for his adaptation of Kafka’s The Castle (1997) which I have not seen.
From the outset it is apparent that The Piano Teacher‘s design and mise en scène were created to highlight the human melodrama at its centre. The Seventh Continent, Haneke’s first theatrical feature after a long career in television, commences its bleakly enigmatic allegory from an opposite viewpoint, that of objects. It could be described as a sort of war film, the chronicle of an occupation in which the world of men has been invaded and overrun by the objects that it has created – household objects, cars, cash registers, all that is considered desirable in today’s consumerist culture. For the first minutes of the film, the audience is barely permitted a look at the central family’s faces: they are hands handling objects, feet moving across the sterile surfaces that theoretically amount to a home. An impressive example of Haneke’s rigorously detached images is a breakfast scene in which the camera remains fixed throughout on the bowls of cereal being consumed, while the family talks and eats. This obsessive framing is not an arbitrary exercise in objectivity. Rather, it recreates the point of view of the ‘enemy,’ of the objects of consumerist middle class living. Hence the enigmatic distance constantly maintained from the actors and the fragmented form of the film: the ‘object-consciousness’ Haneke films out of is incapable of understanding the motivations behind the actions performed by the characters or empathising with their emotions. Human contact is experienced not as human interaction- the face – but as human contact with objects, the hand touching a surface. The incommunicability that afflicts the family seems the result of an attempt to impose conformism upon the mechanistic logic of appliances, reducing people to societal functions – mother, father, husband, wife, daughter – which somehow stifle feelings which might interfere with the expected behavioural patterns required by each situation.
In the first of the film’s three clearly signalled chapters, two incidents militate against the regime of objects: the first is the young daughter’s feigned blindness and the second is a dinner scene during which a recently bereaved relative is stricken with uncontrollable attacks of grief. The daughter’s pretence of sightlessness is handled with little sympathy in her school; the inexplicability of her rebellious will to defectiveness is treated as inadmissible. Yet this enigmatic cry for help is as uncomfortably revealing in its perhaps inadvertent extremity of conformism as it is in its insolence. The averted gaze of the camera, the claustrophobic avoidance of the face and hence also of emotional empathy are the defining characteristics of the world around the little girl, a world of people unable to look at themselves or others, reduced to a series of manual interactions with objects. It is telling that one of the film’s first human close-ups is an eye caged in an eye-testing device at an optician, a gaze captured by and subjected to the dictates of a machine.
Yet the genuinely loving family is also endowed with a longing to reach out to each other. It is as if the glacial bleakness of this post-human society has somehow mysteriously frozen the forms of affection, rendering them ineffectual against the background of immanent object-domination. According to Antonioni, when he made Red Desert (1964), machines functioned perfectly, it was the human psyche that was incapable of catching up with the world technology had created and this was perceived as a crisis. By the time of The Seventh Continent, Haneke seems to tell us, this crisis has become a social order, with man’s material creations dominating his space as a matter of course; emotional and mental space as well as physical.
The dinner is a fine example of Haneke’s formidable mastery at creating memorably powerful scenes of emotional distress and violence. The apologetic relative’s failure to suppress his grief alienates him from the falsely jovial atmosphere surrounding him and makes the rest of the family uncomfortable for highlighting the festering, perhaps wilfully undefined malaise undercutting their own existence. When the family finally rebels, it is with a stunningly apocalyptic implosion that is as apparently inexplicable as the anxiety that causes it, a tenderly nihilistic solution born of the film’s one optimistic shift: an increase in unspoken understanding and communication between husband and wife that avoids playing into the logic of objects by sidestepping the inherent functionalism of definition. Silent accord escapes the radars of object-consciousness and it is through his use of this means that Haneke, having so carefully placed us in the position of non-comprehending matter, appeals to the spectator to transcend this viewpoint by using our own sensitivity to understand the hidden realisations that the heroes undergo – in short, to reclaim our own humanity. In this way, rather than lazily identifying with the family, we are called upon to experience their expansion of awareness for ourselves. However bleak his cinema initially appears, Haneke seldom resorts to fatalistic wallowing – most of his films propose a method of reversal to the negative state of things that they outline, solutions that are often as difficult and profound as they are apparently invisible on the surface of the narrative. Rather than just illustrating problems, these films are concerned with subtly attacking them, healing as well as diagnosing. Their originality and urgency lies in the fact that the location of the ‘healing’ is the viewer’s intelligence rather than the characters’ situations.
The family’s course of action is to isolate themselves completely from the outside world, systematically destroy all their possessions and then commit suicide. To purge themselves utterly of matter. Yet there is nothing cathartic in this self-sacrifice. Haneke does not suggest that in destroying their bodies they release their suppressed spirits or affirm their long-ignored individual identities. It is too late for these outcomes – were it not, death would probably not be the ideal solution. What this deconstruction of their material identity and every attendant preconception accomplishes is a desperate and resounding affirmation of the existence of the state of dehumanisation that Haneke views as synonymous with middle class consumerism. The unspoken and apparently inexplicable are the final refuges of the human spirit.
If The Seventh Continent proposed an object-consciousness against which initially colluding characters ultimately rebel, Benny’s Video handles the same themes with the addition of the perfect metaphor for object-consciousness: the camcorder-eye, which enables a human being to simultaneously experience and embody both human- and object-consciousness. The fixedly claustrophobic, object-dominated spatiality of the earlier film is replaced by a highly sophisticated process of spatial alienation and ultimate virtualisation that effectively represents the uncomfortable depths of denial lurking beneath the polished, metallic surface of bourgeois normality. Once again the focus of the film is the middle class family. Young teenager Benny impulsively murders a girl he has brought home and videos the killing. His father destroys the body and sends him on holiday with his mother. When he returns, life carries on as normal until Benny turns them all in to the police.
When Benny’s father asks him why he killed the girl, he replies that he did it to see what it felt like. Benny is not a monster; on the contrary, he remains constantly sympathetic. His crime is the result of his background’s failure to provide him with the tools of emotional empathy, even as it privileges him in terms of material well-being. His bewildered detachment is represented by his obsessive attachment to his camcorder. His encounter with the girl is marked by the sort of emotional curiosity that would lead one to expect some kind of sexual encounter. When he impulsively shoots her on a dare, it is her pain, her screaming, her expression of extreme emotion that Benny is unable to handle and that causes him to finish her off. He shoots her repeatedly simply to shut her up. The murder is seen entirely in one long take on a TV monitor which Benny’s camcorder is plugged into. This indirect view of the film’s key event steals the act from Benny, so to speak. It objectifies it, denying the youth the opportunity to form a fully rounded emotional response to his actions even as they occur. It is the beginning of a subtle disintegration of reality, which, suddenly lacking the anchor of any moral centre, will begin to drift into a ghostly virtual shadow of itself, like space when passed through Benny’s video images. This enforced objectification continues with his father’s calmly pragmatic handling of the crisis during which he decides to destroy the corpse and bury the incident. Not only is Benny unpunished, but denial becomes the centre not only of his existence, but of his mother’s also. During the father’s long speech after the killing in which he calmly weighs up the situation, she has difficulty suppressing outbursts of hysterical laughter for which her husband snaps at her. Later, having taken Benny on holiday to Egypt in order to forget his crime, she suddenly breaks down while lying on a hotel room bed with her son. Benny’s reaction to this is disturbed bemusement. As usual with Haneke, the characters’ feelings are not spelt out for us, but it is very possible that his internal dilemma consists of matching actions to emotions.
Benny’s parents appear to act out of love, out of the parental instinct to protect their child. Yet this love has been reduced to the functions of love – at its heart is the denial of an evil act that allows for no process of dealing with and overcoming its trauma and also stifles the possibility of all but the most superficial communication between those involved. A love that denies human compassion; love itself become part of a materialist schematism. A love that is truly, as Fassbinder would say, colder than death. The mother’s outburst is perhaps the film’s only expression of true love manifest as healthy horror at the monstrousness of the situation, an outburst that goes against the severe rationalism that dictates every other aspect of the characters’ behaviour save, of course, for Benny’s. In this respect it echoes the crime by confronting Benny with the same, perhaps unbearable, spectacle of a woman’s uncontrollable distress, the only clue he has about the nature of the feelings he has become disconnected from.
Visually, Benny’s Video can be divided into three distinct types of images. The first is the clinical, distanced space of Haneke’s 35mm images of Benny’s flat, his city haunts and certain portions of the holiday. These can be taken as a concrete representation of his affluently frigid reality. Then there are the warm, mysterious and sometimes startlingly beautiful handicam video images taken by Benny, which start to dominate during the holiday. Thirdly, and less prevalently, there are images of the city at night that appear during the first half of the film, apparently unconnected with either the objective view of Benny’s existence or his subjective camera-eye. Rather, these disturbingly independent images – negative versions of the contemplative groups of establishing shots that punctuate Ozu’s films – interrupt the narrative in order to evoke an outer world consisting of a frighteningly impersonal, inhuman void, an uncaringly inscrutable universe incapable of proposing answers to the problem at hand.
The camcorder footage in the film’s first half is limited in amount, most notably being used to objectify the murder, to present its emotional immediacy as completely incompatible with the orderliness that surrounds it, to allow the environment to absorb and digest the event. Yet even this is still an image on a monitor rather than video directly intercut with film. Visually, the coldness of the first half is sharply contrasted with the warm colours of the holiday. In fleeing the scene of his crime, Benny is embraced for the first time by visual beauty, the reflection of which he captures on video. To further heighten this unexpected atmosphere with inflections of the sublime, these images are often accompanied by choral music that is later contextualised as being sung by a choir Benny is part of. The unreal atmosphere of this part of the film initially seems designed simply to highlight the contrast between Austria and Egypt or rather a visitor’s vision of Egypt. But, as Haneke lavishes more and more time on these scenes, it becomes apparent that a full-scale crisis in reality is underway. If these holiday images are suffused with the dreamy alienation of a distant land remembered, the dominance of video footage in family scenes after his return to Austria indicates that in fleeing from their dark secret they have rendered up their whole existence to the same ethereal transience that is experienced visiting an alien environment. In short, their lives have become a holiday from the reality of their situation. Benny’s decision to denounce his entire family to the police can thus be seen as an attempt to salvage reality, to escape the extended golden twilight of his Egyptian reverie and grapple head on with the oppressive grays of reality. In other words, he reintroduces the weight of a moral centre to their lives, which were in the process of floating from pure surface materialism into hallucinatory shadow.
Yet the film’s final shot suggests that Benny’s redemption of his family is about to be compromised by a fourth system of images, one potentially more sinister than any that preceded it. As Benny’s parents are brought in to the police station and meet him being taken out presumably to a cell, Haneke cuts to the impersonal video image of a security camera recording this encounter. In one cut the characters are moved from being the vehicles of shades of ethical movement and choice making to the embodiment of the simple fact of their crime. This fact finally imprisons them thanks to the coldly judgmental camera-gaze that they are finally caught in, a gaze that denies the possibility of varying degrees of guilt and blame, a black and white image in every sense. After an hour and a half of moral exploration and debate carried out through comparative visual strategies that remain constantly sensitive to the characters, the instant brutalisation of the security camera image is deeply chilling.
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994) again tackles a system of images that has become an integral part of society, this time television news coverage instead of home video. This masterpiece is without doubt the most intelligent and powerful study yet by cinema of television. It does not confront the television industry as such in the manner of, say, Lumet’s Network (1976); rather, it deconstructs the process by which people pass from their own realities into media-related facts. In this way it can be seen as an extension and full-scale investigation of the perceptual transformation of Benny’s Video‘s closing shot. As usual with Haneke, he does not preach or spell out his messages. Instead, he puts them into practice through the formal devices that he employs and places a sadly uncommon trust in the viewer’s intelligent engagement with his troubling material.
For the first time Haneke moves beyond the confines of a single family to contrast a series of simultaneously unfolding stories that come together in one single tragedy that also gives rise to one single news report. As the title suggests, fragmentation is the key device employed in creating this snapshot of contemporary life. The film is broken down into precise, isolated scenes, often of only one shot. The ultimately interconnecting dramas represent contrasting strata of modern urban existence, each with their own anxieties and ethical problems to confront, from the illegal immigrant boy to the angst-ridden security guard to the middle-class couple trying to adopt a child and the gun-dealing student who finally brings about the unifying crisis. 71 Fragments unfolds like a mosaic being pieced together tessera by tessera before our eyes, with the logic of the finished picture remaining mysterious until finally completed. Society, Haneke suggests, is fragmented and each fragment cuts off the characters it contains, prevents them from communicating with others. Even when an attempt is made to bridge this gap, as in the couple’s decision to adopt the streetwise and independent immigrant boy instead of a mentally disturbed little girl, it is fraught with personal motives understandable only to one person or group involved. Sometimes it unwittingly gives rise to potentially damaging consequences, such as the rejection of the girl. Interaction between the little girl, the couple and the boy occurs at constant cross-purposes with no real understanding of the emotional reasoning behind the other characters’ actions – for example, the social guilt that inspires the couple to take in the boy, or the little girl’s apparent inability to communicate hiding what is possibly an even more pressing need than the boy’s for an environment of familial comfort. This would suggest a pessimism about the possibility of any wider communication, an extension of Haneke’s earlier studies of incommunicability across the whole spectrum of society instead of within the microcosm of family.
The inability of family members to find a satisfactory method of expressing their love for each other is again dealt with explicitly in the security guard’s story. Perhaps the most wrenchingly powerful scene Haneke has yet put to film details a dinner the guard and his wife share, filmed in a single-take medium shot and punctuated with agonising silences. Shyly, almost painfully, he tells her that he loves her. She first asks if he is drunk and then, aggressively suspicious, demands to know what he is really after. Hurt at her reaction to his obviously very uncommon attempt at intimacy, he slaps her before despairingly withdrawing into himself. Now understanding, his wife reaches out and touches him sympathetically. The scene is so starkly eloquent in its depiction of true feeling desperately seeking a means of expression that it could stand up as a brilliant short film in its own right.
The structure of multiple narratives running parallel and occasionally connecting within a given urban setting is hardly original – in ’90s cinema both Kieslowski and Wong were also doing great and unique work in this field. Yet these directors created vibrantly poetic states of subjectivity around their characters, who are often searching for some communication, some form of spiritual contact or completion. Haneke’s characters, on the other hand, often seem to feel besieged by reality. Rather than searching the city, they are fighting it off. Visually, Haneke’s severe, claustrophobically formal framings in 71 Fragments are as objective and distancing as Christopher Doyle’s freewheeling camera is emotive and empathetic in Wong’s films. The rigorous visual structure of Haneke’s film works to place all his characters on the same level; although trapped by the frame within their own fragment of reality, the unchanging similarity of these fragments suggests that everyone is in the same predicament and that these visual fragments are derived from the same whole.
The fragmentation is also importantly analogous to the way in which information is conveyed in short clips on television news programmes. The film opens with a series of current news stories that specifically locate the film in the moment of its creation, creating a sense of present tense urgency that Haneke maintains throughout. The frequent presence of television images is a constant throughout Haneke’s films as a very contemporary element of the problems of communication and interpretation of reality that he incessantly treats of, but nowhere is this presence more important than here. Television footage crops up on monitors in scenes during the main body of the film, but it is in the closing scene that its importance is revealed. After the student has cracked up in a bank and gone on a killing spree that ends in his suicide, an incident which involves most of the film’s characters, the film switches to a simulated news report of the killing in which witnesses express their horror and incomprehension. Haneke then boldly moves on to real news stories such as the war in Sarajevo and Michael Jackson’s alleged child abuse. Perhaps the most obvious interpretation of this device would be a pessimistic one – that real lives and real people so easily become just another news story in a parade of media images, the actual state of their lives becoming lost as they- like the family at the end of Benny’s Video – become subject to an uncomprehendingly impersonal image system. That, in a world already saturated with images, they become just another image.
Yet the miracle of 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, its ‘healing’ aspect, is that this conclusion also has the opposite effect: it re-humanises the other non-fictional news stories, makes the predicaments they bear witness to suddenly seem very close and real. As the film progresses, the viewer becomes emotionally engaged with one individual story after another from one different part of society after another: the smallest units of the narrative. In the bank massacre these small units cohere into one large unit. Having trained the viewer to engage with small units and brought him or her to understand their ultimate agglomeration, by inserting the large unit into the context of the news programme he is making it a smaller unit and beginning the process once again with the news programme as the new large, encompassing narrative unit. In this way we come to perceive the woman interviewed on the streets of Sarajevo or, for that matter, Michael Jackson with the same intimacy as the fictional characters we have come to know and care about. Haneke has succeeded in reaffirming the common humanity of the subjects behind the images that assail us each day, counteracting the desensitisation brought about by media overkill. Just as we thought that his mosaic was completed, he revealed that it was in fact endless, capable of expanding in all directions, encompassing all the narrative fragments that make up all the lives in the world. If the subject matter of 71 Fragments appears to be a bleak wallow in urban alienation, the form it takes makes it, with Code Inconnu (2000) perhaps the most resounding, compassionate and utterly unsentimental affirmation of human brotherhood in modern cinema, a film that reveals people’s often unrecognised and unacknowledged closeness even if only to point out that we’re all in the same sinking boat.
In 1995 Haneke contributed by far the best episode to the very uneven portmanteau film Lumiere and Company, which consisted of a series of one-minute films shot on an original Lumiere Brothers camera to mark cinema’s centenary. Although a few of the participating filmmakers, such as David Lynch, made the most of this potentially fascinating assignment, many seemed to have approached it quite flippantly. Haneke turned Lumiere’s camera on the screen of a television and filmed a news broadcast: the first moving picture camera (at least symbolically) beheld its contemporary offspring and the disposable day-to-day television image achieved silence and timelessness. Haneke closed the circuit of the first hundred years of moving images.
Funny Games (1997) stands as the one truly bad film on Haneke’s otherwise consistently excellent filmography. Its clumsiness, when compared to the subtlety and sophistication of his other family dramas, The Seventh Continent and Benny’s Video, is truly remarkable. Funny Games puts a naive faith in the confrontational power of the spectacle of sadistic violence, which Tarantino had already definitively tamed and thus undermined in his first two films. By the time Haneke adopted it, it was a redundant gimmick. While his intentions were doubtlessly honourably moralistic, too many less scrupulous filmmakers had used the frisson of ultra-violence for pure entertainment and some great ones – Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange (1971), Stone in Natural Born Killers (1994) – had managed to harness and successfully explore the disturbingly gleeful rush of cinematic violence in a context of deepest seriousness. Compared to these, Haneke’s schematically protracted tortures are unpleasantly laboured and suffer from overconfidence in their own visceral power. This overconfidence results in a fatal error: Haneke sees no need to characterise his heroes and villains beyond their actions. In this respect, far from being cutting edge, Funny Games is among the most conservative films of the ’90s. We are back in the territory of Griffithian melodrama: the heroic, beleaguered family battling for their lives and property against an unspeakable, child-killing other. If the film works at all, it is as a touching portrait of family loyalty in the face of all odds. Compared to such great more-or-less contemporary films as Scorsese’s Cape Fear (1991), Chabrol’s La Cérémonie (1995) or Peckinpah’s much earlier Straw Dogs (1971), all of which somehow suggest that the family’s inner demons brought their destruction upon themselves from within, Funny Games is positively comforting in its lack of moral doubt. And, ironically, it was Haneke himself who created the most disturbing film in this cycle with The Seventh Continent, in which the family doesn’t even need the catalyst of an invader to descend the path of self-annihilation.
The French-language Code Inconnu is perhaps Haneke’s greatest film. It develops the themes of 71 Fragments but without the encompassing formal analogy of television. Like the earlier film, it tells several sometimes interconnecting stories, all of them posing ethical problems. But whereas the earlier film contained each story in its own narrative fragment right up to the end, this time interaction and coexistence are highlighted throughout. The result is an atmosphere less of creeping dread and more of pressing urgency, the urgency of assuming or abdicating responsibility in constantly arising situations. The urgency of ethical choice – if Spike Lee hadn’t got there first, Do the Right Thing would be an ideal title for Haneke’s film. Formally it breaks with the rigid claustrophobia of 71 Fragments. The long takes are more pronounced than ever, but the framing is looser and, most importantly, it incorporates horizontal movement, which becomes the film’s defining formal strategy. Code Inconnu is as visually anti-fragmentation as the earlier films were defined by it. The several sweeping lateral tracking shots that unite characters and stories in space inflect the rest of the film’s static shots with the constant potential of offscreen space. Actors are no longer prisoners held in place by rigid frames, but rather people anxiously adrift in a world of constant horizontal flux – movement from one country to another, from one social background to another, from war to peace, from the country to the city, from comparative affluence at home to mendicancy abroad, from fiction to reality. The bravura lateral tracking shot that kick-starts the movie seems to contain it all in microcosm: an actress, played by Juliette Binoche, leaves her flat in a hurry. She is going to a rehearsal. The younger brother of her war correspondent-boyfriend who is out of the country accosts her. He tried to enter her flat, but the door code had been changed. As they walk, he tells her that he has run away from his farm-home in the country, which his father wants him to take over. She tells him he can stay that night, but not for long. She gives him the keys to her flat and says they will talk that night. He starts walking back towards the flat, eating some food. He sees an immigrant beggar woman sitting in a doorway and throws the wrapper from his food into her lap. A young black man seizes him and demands that he apologise. They scuffle. Binoche returns and tries to break it up. The police arrive. When the black man tries to make a complaint they take him and the beggar away. The actual offender gets away with it.
All this is captured in one shot containing two horizontal movements over the same stretch of street, one right and one left. That this simple stretch of time and space contains such a bustling density of stories, problems, social and racial diversity, chance, choices, perceptions, misconceptions and prejudices and are all captured with the same impartial interest is indicative of the film’s dizzying, uniquely inclusive vision of today’s decentred world. Code Inconnu has the immediacy of a sketch or a snapshot of our times. Nothing is tied up; no neat conclusions are drawn. Some choices are made, some are not. The city is an unending test, a constant barrage of decisions about how to interact or not, whether to intervene or not. Binoche plays an actress, but it seems everyone is trying to change his or her role, like the young farmer who wants to move to the city or the Rumanian woman, respected and financially comfortable at home, who makes a living by illegally entering France to work and beg. Uncertainty is omnipresent and it is perhaps an end to this uncertainty that Haneke’s characters are seeking, the unknown code of the title. And it is this uncertainty that unites us: whatever our social status or race, we are all scared.
Michael Haneke is more than a great director. Like Godard in France/Switzerland, Kiarostami in Iran and Harmony Korine in the United States, he is a necessary director, one whose absence would severely damage the world’s cinematic ecology. One whose work is an essential corrective to the unthinking dictates of dominant, Hollywood-centred filmmaking. Haneke’s films are important because they address society; because they diagnose the latest often technology-inflected forms of spiritual and emotional paralysis that are frequently ignored or treated only indirectly, at least by the cinema. They are important because they treat of modern man, his problems, his fears and his environment – they try to perceive the world as it is now and show ‘now’ to be more than a question of fashion. Rather than pontificating about these themes from a soapbox for which cinema is merely an excuse, he creates a specifically appropriate filmic form with every movie, one that always leaves sufficient ambiguity to allow the audience to draw their own conclusions. In fact, no director living displays more faith in the intelligence of his viewer. In this respect, Haneke’s cinema can never be accused of pessimism – in its relationship with the spectator, it represents human communication in action and, as such, it counteracts the symptoms of incommunicability that it so urgently diagnoses.