A Palme d’Or For Haneke

An Austrian director triumphs at last at the Cannes Festival

Michael Haneke

Dir. Michael Haneke | Photo: Courtesy of FilmFanatix

Austrian director Michael Haneke was awarded the prestigious Palme d’Or for Best Feature Film, Sunday, May 24 at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, for his most recent movie The White Ribbon. The day before, the same movie had received the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) prize as well. It is the third time that Haneke has won a prize at Cannes, but this was his first Palme d’Or. The filmmaker was jubilant.

“Happiness is a rare thing,” Haneke said to the Cannes audience. “But this is a moment in my life when I am truly happy.”

This success crowns a series of successful films for Haneke, including his first big success La Pianiste, which won the Grand Prize at the 2001 Cannes Festival, as well as Best Actor and Actress awards; Caché, for which he won Best Director at Cannes in 2005; and Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages honored with a Special Award in 2000.

The award also comes on the heels of string of honors for other Austrian filmmakers. In 2008, Stefan Ruzowitzky became – with Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters) – Austria’s first Oscar-winning filmmaker since 1968, which he predicted had “already changed this country’s movie landscape significantly.” Then last February, Götz Spielmann’s Revanche was nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards.

Comfortable working with scripts in French, English and German, Haneke is famous for the austere and disturbing tone of his films, which often unveil problems and failures in modern society. This film addresses “the origin of every type of terrorism; political or religious,” Haneke told the Austrian daily Kurier. According to the critics at the Cannes screening, the black-and-white film portrays the authoritarian atmosphere and the conflicted life in a village in northern Germany during the pre-World War I period.

Born in Munich, Germany, in 1942, Haneke descends from a family that was always involved in filmmaking (his father was an actor and director, and his mother was an actress). He grew up in Wiener Neustadt and studied philosophy, psychology and drama at the University of Vienna.

After the great Cannes night on May 24th, Austria is again in the world cinema spotlight. Observers credit this string of successes to a variety of factors, including a growing commitment of the Austrian government and the City of Vienna to support film ventures through The Austrian Film Institute and the Viennale International Film Festival each November. In addition, the presence of Austrian born mega-producer Eric Pleskow – long time head of United Artists and later Orion Pictures in Hollywood – as director of the Viennale festival, has helped raise the visibility of the Austrian work.

Aside from Haneke’s award, Austrian Christoph Waltz won Best Actor for his role in Quentin Tarantino’s new World War II epic, Inglourious Basterds.

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