With the awards season fast approaching, there is a buzz around the independent film world because of the high possibility that indie films will really clean up at the Oscars. So many excellent indie films are lined up to potentially claim prestigious Oscar awards this spring and ÉCU is very excited about the prospect of seeing independent films triumph! This week ÉCU is spotlighting Austrian film director and screenwriter Michael Haneke, whose movie Amour (2012) is in with a good chance at the Oscars, considering it has been nominated in five categories. It has also received four BAFTA nominations and already won Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globe Awards last Sunday.

Haneke’s style understandably ruffles many viewers’ feathers, as there is something very raw and bleak about it. He can really touch a nerve and make an audience uncomfortable. At the same time there is certainly a rewarding cathartic aspect to his work. His films linger in the mind and set mechanical clogs clanking in the brain, as they probe emotional depths and challenge the viewer to re-examine social issues. Some of his best-known works include – the controversial – Benny’s Video (1992), Funny Games (1997, and its US remake in 2008), The Piano Teacher (2001), Caché (2005) and The White Ribbon (2009).

Anyone familiar with Haneke’s films has no doubt some very clear imagery seared in their minds from some of his more shocking scenes. Their dramatic violence leaps out particularly after a sequence of subdued, stifled emotions and long shots that almost test the viewers’ patience. However, the intensity of the violence he portrays, which takes place after a build-up of banality, is there to remind us of its reality and reinforce its shock-value. This could be seen to deconstruct the accepted normalcy of cinematic violence. Haneke plays with the medium of film and often highlights our roles as viewers, something that is made quite clear in his film Caché – which won many awards at various festivals including Cannes Film Festival and the European Film Awards. The plot is based on surveillance videos that are being mailed anonymously to a family, showing them that they are being observed.

Caché is remarkable, though perhaps not exactly enjoyable, for the way it handles the idea of camera surveillance, notions of privacy, what an audience sees, and how we deal with things in the past and childhood. A foster boy (who was Algerian) was taken away from his foster family because the biological son claimed that he frightened him. The film has been examined in light of its connection to the Algerian War of Independence and France’s failure to deal with this turbulent part of its history. It features an Algerian man (who was the foster boy) whose parents died in the Paris massacre of 1961 – a massacre that was only officially acknowledged for the first time by a French president last October, which indicates what Haneke was trying to get at.

Haneke’s Amour is what has everyone’s interest now, and it is based on the strain which is put on an elderly couple’s bond of love after the wife incurs a stroke. After returning from hospital she asks her husband to promise that he never makes her go back there again (he explains earlier that she has a fear of doctors). This promise is what will test their love as he will have to make difficult decisions to see out her wishes. The film has already seriously impressed critics, so we are eager to find out the final results on Oscars night – and cross our fingers for independent movies like this one!

Gill Gillespie

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