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May 2016 – John Randolph Bennett

Michael Haneke on Ideologies and Political Content in Film

From The Paris Review:

I despise films that have a political agenda. Their intent is always to manipulate, to convince the viewer of their respective ideologies. Ideologies, however, are artistically uninteresting. I always say that if something can be reduced to one clear concept, it is artistically dead. If a single concept captures something, then everything has already been resolved—or so it ­appears, at least. Maybe that’s why I find it so hard to write synopses. I just cannot do it. If I were able to summarize a film in three sentences, I wouldn’t need to make it. Then I’d be a journalist, I’d get to the heart of the matter in those three sentences, and my readers would know what it’s all about, and that would be that. But that is not what I find interesting.

Look, life itself is the object of art. You aim to construct a parallel world in your novel or your play. The truly captivating thing is the story that ­unfolds between your protagonists. Of course, for somebody with political convictions—and we all have those—there is no way they aren’t going to seep into your artwork. Céline, for example, was a right-wing extremist. And that was visible in his work, but he still wasn’t completely inept as a writer. There are thousands of examples, from both the left and the right. At the academy, I always lecture on propagandistic films of various origins so as to sensitize my students to their particular way of functioning. In my films, however, politics happen only subcutaneously, and it is never my ­intention to say, Look, this is what I’m trying to tell you, now swallow it. My ­objective is a humanistic one—to enter into a dialogue with my viewers and to make them think. There isn’t much more you will be able to achieve in the dramatic arts. And frankly, I don’t know what else you should be able to achieve.