Love, actually, is Michael Haneke's big winner

The Austrian director has landed his second Palme d'Or in quick succession. Kaleem Aftab notes a change in mood

With his Palme d'Or victory for Love on Sunday coming just three years after he took the top prize for The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke has broken the record for the smallest amount of time between Cannes wins.

Love, about an octogenarian couple coping with their failing bodies and minds as illness has them staring at death, is a different type of film from the Austrian director. The easy-to-grasp tale marks a departure from the allegorical style that has bemused and delighted audiences in equal measure, a style that has made the 70-year-old director a favourite of academics, and numerous conferences have made stabs at parsing his work.

His films always seem to be about something else. Funny Games (1997), which sees a couple of young boys break into a house and torture a family, has been read as a comment on television violence, Hidden, about a couple terrorised by surveillance videos left on their doorstep, is seen as a comment on French colonial guilt over the Algerian war, and even his previous Palme d'Or winner, The White Ribbon, which is set in the run-up to the First World War, is actually about the Second World War and fascism.

Scratching of the head has often been the first reaction to watching one of his previous 11 feature films. Prior to his cinematic debut, The Seventh Continent, in 1989, he directed films for TV and had a short career as a critic. His very first career move was an attempt to follow his parents Fritz Haneke and Beatrix Degenschild into acting. He has also directed for the stage, taking on works from Strindberg, Goethe, Mozart, Bruckner and Kleist.

Isabelle Huppert, who starred in Haneke's The Piano Teacher (2001) and The Time of the Wolf (2003) and has a small but important role as a daughter living abroad in Love, says of the man she often cites as her favourite director, "he doesn't make the actors suffer, he makes the audience suffer."

This is usually done through brutal violence. Although it's often been a feature of Haneke's oeuvre that he doesn't show the violence; instead he lets the image linger on an open space, or just behind a door, and the audience imagines the brutality that's taking place just beyond the camera's stare. He seems to believe that nothing is as depraved as what goes on in our minds, and it's a guiding feature of many of his protagonists, most notably Daniel Auteuil's Georges Laurent in Hidden and Huppert in The Piano Teacher. In Love, once Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) has a stroke and suffers memory loss, her relationship with husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) becomes a battle of the wills. Both believe that they know best: Anne wants to die, while Georges wants her to live, as much for his own wellbeing as hers.

In Cannes, Haneke said of a scene that takes place after Anne tries to commit suicide, and after George wheels her into the living room: "There is so much pain and suffering, I felt deeply moved and touched." Other themes seen in Love that commonly appear in his films are the failure of the family unit and women as victims of physical abuse.

Jean-Louis Trintignant, who came out of screen retirement after a 14-year absence from cinema, said: "I think that Haneke is one of the greatest directors in the world... But I've never met such a demanding director, he knows exactly what he wants his film to look like."

Haneke demands as much precision from his actors on-set as he exerts constructing his images on screen. He is also a professor of directing at the Vienna Film Academy, and then there is his look – I've only ever seen him wear black that always pops out against his white beard. For all the complexities of his storylines and characters, his basic message is that the human condition is framed by violence and selfishness. And yet the unveiling of Love at Cannes seemed to confirm another trend that has taken hold of his work since the failure of Hidden to win the Palme d'Or. That is that Haneke has started to make films using the techniques of Hollywood.

The big question is why in 2007 he decided to remake Funny Games with Hollywood stars. The film was a shot-by-shot transposition of his 1997 Austrian original, this time with Tim Roth playing dad and Naomi Watts the mother. It turned out to be a commercial failure, but what it also hinted at was a director seeking more acclaim for his own work.

Making films about the First or Second World War has also been a sure-fire route to awards success in America. When Haneke finally won the Palme d'Or for The White Ribbon, set in a village in the months before the First World War, it was as if a weight were lifted off his shoulders; he became a far more carefree and light-hearted figure, easier to interview.

Love is his most straightforward picture and a far more obvious film for an American remake than Funny Games. In becoming a bit more Hollywood, Haneke is finally getting the awards that his remarkable oeuvre deserves.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power