Michael Haneke's disturbing use of silence


If you ever decide to watch a Michael Haneke film make sure you’re in the right mood for something either punishing or provocative. It’s not to dismiss the Austrian auteur’s singular vision, but embarking into the world of his films is to often have your spirit and soul drained out. His work is rigorous, restrained and controlled cinema with an emphasis on the dehumanization of modern society, all done through the prism of the most potently realistic acts of violence imaginable.
Haneke’s use of violence is one of the more disturbing assets of his style. It usually comes in short bursts and in ways that are both shocking and disturbing. He knocks you down with his absolute and masterful control. The mise en scene is tightly fashioned in a detail-obsessed manner, with every tiny detail needing to count because what he’s trying to do is not only horrify you, but shock your system with memorably precise visual and sound. It is the complete and utter control of the viewer and the response to the act of violence that makes it all the more horrifying.
“Haneke makes us hear and see terrible things. Despite his critical success the backlash has been extreme,” goes the opening of Elsie Walker’s video essay “Taking Time to Hear…” which takes into account Haneke’s use of silence as a way to give shape and form to the content. In other words, the wordless interludes that proceed Haneke’s most torturous sequences are meant to act as a kind of salvation.
The video is meant as a rebuttal to the critics that claim he is a sadistic and cruel filmmaker. Walker seems to be implying that they are missing the point. As the video shows us, Haneke asks the viewer to hear the victims’ pain compassionately through slyly inserted silent interludes. Walker also states that “this quiet is not about the aggressors, but the victims, including the people who make themselves suffer by hurting others.”
Six acts of violence from six different films are given as examples. From a mother tied up and bound, standing next to her dead son’s body right after he’s been shot in “Funny Games,” to the famous suicide in “Cache,” Haneke has always maintained a hyper-tight control of what he wants his audience to see, feel and think. If you’re up for it, it can make for absolutely devastating cinema.
You can check it all out HERE
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