Three Non-American Independent Filmmakers

Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke was born in a family of actors, Fritz Haneke and Beatrix von Degenshild. World War II forced his parents to change their place of residence; thus, restless Munich was abandoned in favor of a quiet Austrian town of Wiener Neustadt (Brunette 6).

Ever since the teenage years, Michael was fond of classical music, and now the director claims that he could be a musician or composer. Despite the love of music, Haneke rarely uses it in his films, as he believes that it is contrary to the portrayed reality. At the age of 17, Haneke wanted to quit school to become an actor. After unsuccessful attempts to enter the Max Reinhardt’s acting school in Vienna, where Michael, in his own words, had familiar teachers as his mother played at the Burgtheater, the boy still went back to school and passed the matriculation examination (Brunette 15).

By enrolling in the University of Vienna, Michael began to study psychology, philosophy and art of theater, but had not finished a single course, and instead he went to Baden-Baden on German channel Sudwestfunk. With the help of his father, he found that the department of television productions was looking for a playwright for two years, so he got the job. At the same time, Haneke focused on mastering the stage direction. Since 1970, he wrote scripts for TV movies. On the small screen, he made a debut with After Liverpool film in 1974. From 1974 to 1986, he was shooting 8 television movies, while working on the stage of Vienna, Munich, Berlin and Hamburg (Brunette 28).

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In 1989, Haneke made a debut with his first feature film The Seventh Continent, which won a prize at the film festival in Locarno (Switzerland). In his characteristic manner of alienation, Haneke showed a hard life of a family – father, mother and daughter, who eventually commit suicide. The representation of such cruel reality without explaining the reasons is the signature style of the director to the present day. Haneke’s next film Benny’s Video (1992) was awarded the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) of the European Film Academy. The film tells the story about the threat of promoting violence in popular culture and still topical problem of the influence of television and video on the immature minds of the younger generation (Brunette 67).

In 1994, Michael shot 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, which tells about the life of an Austrian student, who suddenly turns into a killer. As the author commented on the film: “Boy killed a girl in a cold blood to see how it will be; in a certain sense, he is not a villain. Namely, he is a villain who does not realize it. He has no complexes, sense of guilt or helplessness that he wants to vent on someone. He is empty, completely empty. He is a man outside the morals, before the morals. He is unencumbered with “chimera” of conscience”. The film completes the trilogy of the first period of Haneke’s creativity – the ultimate coldness to his characters (Rhodes and Price 94).
In 1997, Michael Haneke participated at the Cannes Film Festival for the first time with the picture of Funny Games, which immediately became one of the most talked about. On the tickets there were made special red stickers, warning the public that something terrible is waiting for them. The film has earned such comments in the press as “a masterpiece of cinematic horror” (Hollywood Reporter), “the most shocking film of Europe” (Kommersant), “watch, if you dare” (Film Scouls). However, despite all the hype, the director had not received any awards. After four years, Michael went to the French Riviera with the adaptation of Elfriede Jelinek’s book The Piano Teacher, and took three awards – the Grand Prix, Best Actor (Benoit Magimel) and Best Actress (Isabelle Huppert) Awards. This film marked the beginning of an international career of the director. Michael Haneke’s name became known not only in Europe, but throughout the world (Rhodes and Price 114).

Having worked in France for a long time, Haneke returned to the German cinema and shot the black-and-white film The White Ribbon. This time, Haneke addressed the theme of Nazism that is one of the most important in the history of Germany. According to the director, he did not think to make a film about fascism. Haneke declared, “I wanted to make a film about children’s choir in the north of Germany. I was interested in children because they are on the lowest rung of the social hierarchy, that is, they can be taught, educated and “oppressed” the way I like”. At the Cannes Film Festival, the film made a real sensation and got the long awaited Golden Palm (Wheatley 161).

Since 2002 and still, Haneke teaches directing at the Vienna Film Academy. Now, Michael lives near Vienna with his wife Suzanne, whom he married in 1983. He calls his wife the most important and stringent critic of his works (Wheatley 209).

Lars von Trier

Lars Trier was born on April 30, 1956, in Copenhagen, in a family of civil servants, Inger and Ulf Trier. His parents were leftist; his father was a social-democrat, his mother was a communist. Inger Trier shared the idea of “free education”, the result of what was the fact that, on the one hand, Lars soon learned to be responsible and independent, on the other – he dropped out of high school without being able to fit into its tight frame (Badley 13). Ulf Trier was half-Jewish, and interest in the Jewish roots determined the personal identity of young Lars; a couple of times he even visited a synagogue. Later, in adulthood, the director learned that he had not a drop of Jewish blood. Inger Trier, shortly before her death, confessed to her son that his real father is a German, Fritz Michael Hartmann, who had once been her employer. Trier’s attempts to establish contact with the biological father failed (Badley 15).

Lars early became interested in cinematography at an early age; he created his first film – minute animated cartoon Journey to the Pumpkin Country (Turen til Squashland, 1967) – when he was eleven. Inger Trier, whose brother Berge Hest (Børge Høst, 1926-2010) was a famous documentarian in the country, supported the passion of her son. She gave him her 8mm camera and brought the old film strips, by the means of which Trier studied film editing. Once, among the film fragments, he caught part of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, 1928), which strongly impressed him. At the age of twelve, Trier starred in Thomas Winding film Secret Summer (Hemmelig Sommer, 1969), during the work on which he was most interested in the technical aspect of the process. When he returned to the studio six months later, he was allowed to participate in the production process (Bainbridge 45).

At the age of 17, Trier wanted to go to the film school at Copenhagen, but he was refused. Then he joined the association of film enthusiasts FilmGroup-16 and at the same time, under the patronage of his uncle, he became an editor at The Danish Film Fund. There, in his spare time, he created short films The Gardener Who Grows Orchids (1977) and Blessed Menthe (1979). Presented at the entrance exams, those tapes finally allowed Trier to enroll in the film school. Starting with The Gardener…, Trier began to add the aristocratic prefix “von” to his name in the credits. Speaking about his pseudonym, Trier points to the American jazz musicians, who used noble titles as their names, as well as filmmakers such as Stroheim and Sternberg (Bainbridge 48).

Trier graduated from the National Danish Film School in 1983. His graduate work was the short film Liberation Photos (Befrielsesbilleder), which won the main award at the Munich Film Festival in 1984. He became known to the public for the films Epidemic (1987) and Europe (1991). Europe, in which an American travels to a dilapidated Germany in 1945, was distinguished by vivid visual and audio solutions: gloomy black-and-white scenery of railways, bridges and tunnels, overlay of frames, mirror reflection, and wide-angle deformations. The film participated in the main competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991 (Bainbridge 53).

Trier’s TV series The Kingdom (1994), called the European response to the Twin Peaks, brought glory on both sides of the Atlantic. A major success for von Trier was the film Breaking the Waves (1996), in which the main character, driven by her faith and love for the paralyzed husband, condemns herself to shame, banishment from the community, the physical torment and eventually to death, for which she receives a remuneration only in heaven. The film was presented at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received the Jury Prize. On March 20, 1995, Trier read the manifesto “Dogma 95”. The idea behind this manifesto was a break with the tradition of mainstream cinema, the hallmark of which was increasing budgets, special effects and reliance on the “stars” (Lumholdt 112). According to the rules of “Dogma”, Trier made a film The Idiots (1998), which remained without awards. In 2000, von Trier released a musical drama Dancer in the Dark, in which main roles were played by Catherine Deneuve and Icelandic singer Björk. The film was awarded the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival – the “Golden Palm”, and Björk received the Best Actress Award. In 2003, Trier began to work on the next trilogy, which is called USA: Land of Opportunities. The first movie in it was Dogville (2003), and the second was Manderlay (2005). Both films, which were created under the influence of the theatrical productions of Bertolt Brecht, were extremely stylized; actors played in an empty pavilion, where there were no other decorations, except for the chalk markings on the floor. Both films were nominated for the “Golden Palm”. The final film of the trilogy had not been made, because after six months of work, Trier abandoned the script (Lumholdt 134).

David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg is one of the most controversial directors of the current world cinema, the creator of breathtaking psychological thrillers, exploring the depths of the human consciousness and has already managed to conquer Cannes. He was born on March 15, 1943, in Toronto, Canada. He graduated from the University of Toronto, majoring in English and natural sciences. However, he went the other way, even though the fundamental education in many ways helped David to create semi-fantastic subjects for his films (Browning 9).

While still a student at the University, Cronenberg made two experimental short sci-fi films: Stereo (1969) and The Crimes of the Future (1970). Both of these “preliminary” works demonstrated the ability of the director to use specifics of the space for expressive purposes. His first feature film was the horror Shivers (1975) about the invention of monstrous parasites that cause uncontrollable sexual desire. The next director’s film was the tape Rabid, in which starred porn star Marilyn Chambers; resulting from a complex operation, an extreme thirst wakes up in her heroine, which can only be quenched by the human blood. A phallic spike, hidden under her arm, makes her hugs being fatal (Browning 15).

At the same time, Cronenberg was working on numerous projects for Canadian television (Jim Ritchie Sculptor, Letter from Michelangelo, Don Valley, Winter Garden, Peep Show and others). In 1979, he released another film experiment in the genre of so-called “biological horror”: The Brood. The director had “grew up a little”: although he again shot horror story about how a biological mutation is seen as a metaphor for the state of fury, but he still began to work with professional actors (Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar) (Beard 61).

The really respectable Cronenberg’s film became the adaptation of The Dead Zone by Stephen King. It was the first film script, which was not written by David himself. The general atmosphere of the film and play of Christopher Walken beat the special effects. The following works of Cronenberg are internationally recognized and well-known films. Videodrome (1983) is a horror film about the impact of television on viewers, about how reality and fantasy can be inextricably intertwined; the lead role was played James Woods. In 1986, Cronenberg did a remake of The Fly on how as a result of a failed experiment, the atomic structure of an enthusiastic scientist combines with the genes of an ordinary dung fly, into which he begins to turn (Beard 73).

In 1991, Cronenberg took the adaptation of the cult novel by one of his favorite writers, Beatnik by William S. Burroughs. Thus, there was the The Naked Lunch, which, according to the director, is easier to perceive by the audience, who are not familiar with the works of Burroughs. At the heart of this crazy and semi-fantastic film was not only the literary works of the writer, but also the facts of his real biography. Moreover, the author of the book really liked the film (Beard 79).

In 1993, Cronenberg shot the film version of the famous play by David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly; director invited Jeremy Irons and John Lone on the main roles, as they had already worked with him before. The film is about the combination of sex, violence, cars and destruction. Crash (1996) with James Spader, Deborah Unger, Holly Hunter and Elias Koteas, was very warmly taken at the Cannes Film Festival, but was disliked by the American guardians of morals. They assigned NC-17 rate to it; thus, they did not give an opportunity to the director to make money in the USA (Beard 85).

After fantastic thriller eXistenZ (1999, “Silver Bear” Berlin Festival), which was released in theaters a few months before The Matrix and raised similar philosophical issues, the focus of the director has shifted from physical abnormalities to abnormalities of the public sense. In the films of the 2000s, which were praised by critics, Cronenberg paints a bleak dark world in noir colors, where the violence is rooted in the very nature of humans. Throughout his career, starting with amateur science fiction films, Cronenberg was keenly interested in only one theme – the human deformation in the twentieth century, its transformation into an animal, machine or a computer program (Riches 130).

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Works Cited

Badley, Linda. Lars von Trier. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010. Print.
Bainbridge, Caroline. The Cinema of Lars von Trier: Authenticity and Artifice. New York: Wallflower Press, 2007. Print.
Beard, William. The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005. Print.
Browning, Mark. David Cronenberg: Author or Film-maker? Bristol : Intellect Books, 2007. Print.
Brunette, Peter. Michael Haneke. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010. Print.
Lumholdt, Jan, ed. Lars von Trier: Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003. Print.
Rhodes, John David, and Brian Price. On Michael Haneke. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010. Print.
Riches, Simon. The Philosophy of David Cronenberg. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012. Print.
Wheatley, Catherine. Michael Haneke’s Cinema: the Ethic of the Image. New York: Berghahn Books, 2011. Print.