In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Michael Haneke

  • Introduction
  • Haneke as Auteur
  • Interviews
  • Essays by Haneke
  • Collections

Cinema and Media Studies Michael Haneke
Lisa Coulthard, Michael Stringer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0365


With a career spanning almost five decades, Michael Haneke (b. 1942– ) has received international recognition and praise only since the early 2000s. This increasing recognition is evidenced by his film Amour (2012), which won the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or, the Best Foreign Language Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Best Film and Best Director awards at the 25th European Film Awards, as well as many other accolades. That this critical reception is slow in coming reflects the challenges that Haneke presents as a director. Provoking audiences, straddling national boundaries, and maintaining an austere directorial style, Haneke represents a complex cinematic auteur who cannot be placed within any clear confines of national traditions or film histories. An exemplar of transnational cinema culture, Haneke is a German-born, Austrian raised filmmaker who defied national boundaries by shifting his cinematic productions to France and the French language in the late 1990s. As a result, critics have often simplified his career trajectory by demarcating the German- and French-language films as representing different styles and themes. But this splitting does not hold after the release of The White Ribbon (2009), a German-language film that thwarted attempts to assign national clarity to Haneke’s cinematic culture and production. These complications are not surprising for those familiar with Haneke’s oeuvre or the scholarly debates around his work—Haneke simply does not fit neatly within any single preordained framework: a modernist working in a postmodern age; an Austrian who makes French, German, and American productions and co-productions; a didactic and stern cynic who wins over interviewers with his affable, forthcoming ways; a pedant who refuses to interpret his own films. As Thomas Elsaesser summarizes in his insightful article “Performative Self-Contradictions: Michael Haneke’s Mindgames” (2010)—Haneke is quite simply a paradox. This paradoxical nature, however, is in opposition to what can be seen as a relatively coherent scholarly discourse about his films—as Peter Brunette notes in his book Michael Haneke (2010), the list of themes associated with Haneke are surprisingly uniform, even canonical: alienation, surveillance, media violence, the fortress of domestic life, non-communication and isolation, guilt, shame, and responsibility. Every scholar who writes on Haneke comments on some configuration or combination of these essential themes. This canonization does not, however, suggest that Haneke’s films lack complexity or are repetitive, one-dimensional, or single minded. Rather, in Haneke we recognize a complexity of thinking that refuses simple answers and rejects easy solutions.

Haneke as Auteur

While Haneke did not appear on the world stage as a major auteur until the success of The Piano Teacher (2001) (see the Films), his earlier works had already earned him the title of an auteur within a European context. Specifically, the coherence in theme, style, and tone of his glaciation trilogy (The Seventh Continent (1989), Benny’s Video (1992), 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994)) struck many early commentators as indicative of an auteurist sensibility. This sense was confirmed with his later Funny Games (1997) and Code Unknown (2000) before becoming firmly solidified by the success of The Piano Teacher. The themes and stylistic signatures that mark Haneke as an auteur are notably consistent: the long take, lack of non-diegetic music, concentration on the failures of communication, emotional iciness, dysfunction of social bonds and foregrounding the mediatization of contemporary life. But these themes and stylistic signatures are imbued with ambiguity, open endings, and an interrogatory mode that insists on the impossibility of finding easy answers. The themes maintain complexity and become inseparable, so that violence is always thought in relation to communication, domesticity, and mediatization, whereas surveillance also requires interrogating shame, the family, alienation, and isolation. Every question is a multilayered one with Haneke, and ideas coalesce into related concepts and issues. That these recurrent clusters shape his critical reception so thoroughly reveals a singularity of purpose that underlies an oeuvre as varied in genre, style, and story as it is in national orientation and language. And yet, within these consistencies, there is room to stress and develop certain strains in Haneke’s oeuvre. Frey 2003 concentrates on Haneke’s postmodern engagement with mediatization and alienation; Rowe 2017 focuses on Haneke’s manipulation of multiple media forms; Speck 2010 and Vicari 2006 focus on violence and alienation; Wheatley 2009 and Grundmann 2010 emphasize the modernist project embedded in this violence; and Sharrett 2006 adds an interest in capitalism and class to these themes to consider Haneke as social commentator. More comprehensive than most accounts, Wheatley’s discussion of Haneke’s films pays particular attention to the provocations directed at the spectators. Designed as an overview to the director’s work, Brunette 2010 is generalist in tone and covers a range of themes and styles by focusing on analyses and descriptions of single films. King 2019 takes a more specific angle and looks at how Haneke is positioned as an auteur through film advertising, critical reception, and scholarly discourse.

  • Brunette, Peter. Michael Haneke. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010.

    A brief, succinct, and useful introduction to Haneke, this book is an auteurist-based analysis of the feature films (The Seventh Continent [1989] to The White Ribbon [2009]). The focus is on close readings of the films themselves. It also includes translated extracts from two of Michel Cieutat’s interviews (2000, 2005) with Haneke.

  • Frey, Mattias. “A Cinema of Disturbance: The Films of Michael Haneke in Context.” Senses of Cinema 28 (2003).

    A thorough and theoretically informed discussion of Haneke’s films to 2003, this article covers interviews, analysis, and some biography. A good introduction to Haneke’s cinema and the major analytical issues associated with it (mediatization, postmodernity, narrative ambiguity, alienation).

  • Grundmann, Roy. “Introduction: Haneke’s Anachronism.” In A Companion to Michael Haneke. Edited by Roy Grundmann, 1–50. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1002/

    A thorough introduction to the films of Haneke and the literature on them, this essay stresses the essential anachronism of Haneke’s modernist project that interrogates bourgeois malaise and anxiety. It traces the development of Haneke’s career and his signature style of parametric narration, alienated affect, didacticism, and use of shock effects.

  • King, Geoff. “Positioning The Turin Horse and Hidden.” In Positioning Art Cinema: Film and Cultural Value. By Geoff King, 140–178. London: I. B. Tauris, 2019.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781788318945

    Focuses on Hidden (2005), often relating it to other Haneke films. Provides a robust overview of the critical and scholarly discourse surrounding Haneke’s work, along with various marketing strategies that position Haneke as a paradigmatic auteur figure. Emphasis is given to recurring stylistic traits associated with art cinema, advertising variances found within different national contexts, and the way Haneke’s interviews are used alongside these marketing strategies.

  • Rowe, Christopher. Michael Haneke: The Intermedial Void. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv2dswp9

    Examines Haneke’s early television films up to Hidden (2005), with the exception of Time of the Wolf (2003). Preexisting canonical frameworks are used to analyze Haneke’s films, but Rowe reworks these frameworks by focusing on the concept of intermediality. Rowe argues that Haneke’s inclusion of non-filmic media (video and television images, literary quotations, photography) creates an intermediality that directly opposes the medium of film.

  • Sharrett, Christopher. “Michael Haneke and the Discontents of European Culture.” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 47.2 (Fall 2006): 6–16.

    DOI: 10.1353/frm.2006.0020

    Sharrett looks at the question of culture in Haneke’s films (especially Benny’s Video [1992] and The Piano Teacher [2000]) and discusses issues of class, patriarchal capitalism, and artifacts of high culture.

  • Speck, Oliver C. Funny Frames: The Filmic Concepts of Michael Haneke. New York: Continuum, 2010.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781628928730

    Covering the early television films to The White Ribbon (2009), this book frames Haneke’s oeuvre through key techniques, concepts, and themes. Drawing on the work of Gilles Deleuze, the book’s first half tackles questions of filmic space, realism, and virtuality, while the second discusses madness, suicide, and childhood in his films.

  • Vicari, Justin. “Films of Michael Haneke: Utopia of Fear.” Jump Cut 48 (2006).

    Focusing on the pessimism and violence in Haneke’s oeuvre, Vicari analyzes alienation, vulnerability, masochism, and authenticity in the films. There is particular attention paid to the role of masochism and brutality as a way of approaching truth through social alienation and indifference in The Piano Teacher (2001) and Code Unknown (1997).

  • Wheatley, Catherine. Michael Haneke’s Cinema: The Ethic of the Image. Oxford: Berghahn, 2009.

    Emphasizes the ethics and moral questions that are part of Haneke’s signature style. Focusing on narrative ambiguity and spectatorial discomfort or displeasure, Wheatley accentuates the modernist principles at the heart of Haneke’s cinema and considers issues such as violence, shame, guilt, and affect within this framework.

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