Michael Haneke on Movies: 'The Ideal Film Scene Should Force the Spectator to Look Away'

Austrian director Michael Haneke is well known for "shocking" films like Funny Games (which he actually made twice in different languages), but there's no question he also knows a thing or about creating a beautiful image, as can be seen in the gorgeous black and white Oscar-nominee The White Ribbon. One of Haneke's greatest strengths is playing to audience expectations and showing, or not showing, pivotal mounts of his films on screen. In the interview embedded below, he talks about his views on violence in film, the extent to which it can be used, and his thoughts on the ideal film scene.

Michael Haneke - Cinephile Interview Magazine

His views on filmmaking technique are numerous, but certainly one of the more powerful elements of his cinema are what is seen and what is not seen. A great lesson in writing is "show, don't tell," but in this case, it's "imply, don't show." (thanks Gregg) Some of the more powerful moments of any film regardless of genre can be executed through the use of audio and certain visual cues to let the audience imagine what is going on. Rather than giving everything away, letting our imaginations get the best of us as an audience can be far more powerful than seeing everything that is happening in a film.

So as not to spoil any of his films, one of the most well-known uses of this technique happened by accident during The Godfather: Part II. Marlon Brando was supposed to make a cameo in a flashback at the end of the film, but he decided not to show up during the day of shooting. In the scene, they are planning a surprise birthday party for Brando's character Don Corleone, but instead of seeing his arrival (which would have been impossible without Brando), we see Michael Corleone sitting alone at the dinner table as we hear the family celebrate in the other room. This wasn't the way Coppola had originally intended the scene to be, but it plays out far more powerfully as we watch Michael contemplate his future.

Does anyone have any favorite examples from other films that use this technique?

Link: Cinephile Interview Magazine

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Your Comment


Michael Haneke is a fellow Austrian director, not German

May 20, 2012 at 4:12PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


My mistake, he was born in Germany.

May 20, 2012 at 4:14PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Joe Marine
Camera Department

...'infer, don't show'.

Imply not infer.


May 20, 2012 at 4:49PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Gregg Toland

Yep, that's what I meant to say, but close enough I think.

May 20, 2012 at 4:52PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Joe Marine
Camera Department

I was very young when I watched this film, but that one particularly amde me realize the power of an absent image and sound filling that gap. It is bit of a step from Haneke to that one, but in "The Lost World", after Pete Postlethwaite has hunt down that living dinosaur, Arliss Howard's character approaches him with a look of awe and almost disbelief at what lies before the two men. But we don't see the half-sleeping T-Rex, we just hear his deep, deep slow breath as the main feature of that brief but beautifully economic scene. One can not really say that TLW is an overlooked film, but it has many of these little moments of directorial wit that make it enjoyable from an entertaining point of view aside from the major thrills...

May 20, 2012 at 5:56PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Matt N.

Poetic and almost unbearable, the rape scene in Theo Angelopoulos (RIP), "Landscape in the Mist". You don´t hear or see anything, but still it hits you like a hammer.

May 20, 2012 at 7:30PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Tiago Carvalho

Bresson is also a master of the unseen in cinema with some good lessons. :)

May 20, 2012 at 8:41PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

guto novo

Yeah totally forgot about him, there's the opening scene in Pickpocket at the race track where you never see any horses actually racing - but you hear it, and it adds to the suspense of Michel stealing money from the purse.

May 20, 2012 at 8:49PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Joe Marine
Camera Department


May 20, 2012 at 8:58PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

guto novo

It's no surprise though, Haneke's styles are influenced a lot by Bresson. Haneke even listed Au Hasard Balthazar by Bresson as one of the best film ever made.

And Salo also makes a huge impact to Hanake.

May 30, 2012 at 6:57AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


if you find his films too depressing and stop watching them altogether, will he count that as ultimate victory?

May 21, 2012 at 1:07AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Michael Haneke has had a massive influence on me in the way he shoots and the realism and philosophy of his film making.

Code Unknown and The Piano Teacher are two of my favourite films of all time, beautiful pieces of work.

May 21, 2012 at 1:55AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Haneke is the great modern horror film maker. I remember watching Funny Games by accident. Unforgettable film. The opening shot in Cache just made me smile for days. He doesn't abide and we love him for it.

May 21, 2012 at 3:12PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


One of the best moments of this is from White Ribbon when the boy is beaten in the other room.

May 22, 2012 at 8:08AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Adam McKay

Totally agree with holding back; inferring all the time. But to be honest? My experiences with trying to break in solely as a screenwriter with specs -- until it happened a year or so out of film school -- was dealing with the whole reader process. Which, for the most part, is b.s.

They simply don't want anyone holding anything back.
They don't want inference.
They really don't want to be challenged or think when they have to read a lot of
crappy scripts -- many of them being sent through the big agencies -- by working writers,
already established in the system.

And a lot of these industry readers, don't want to be readers.
It's an entry level job for many who want to be producers.
And the fastest way for them to promote is to say no to just about everything.

I love this article, because it's solid...it works...and Hitchcock
used it in so many of his films which have stood the test of time.

Now...how do you get around this great information when the system is
really set up to keep you out?

In this digital world now and for the future...shoot your own work.
Or...produce it.

Find a way...to get your work to the audience without
necessarily playing the game the system has controlled for so long.

Maybe it's a short; a web series; maybe a trailer -- like I'm doing -- to show
investors that you really know what you're doing as a writer-producer;
or as a director-writer-producer like myself.

As in...I can make them money with my work.

It's a lot of work in the process; but it'll probably be
a more sure way toward success...than just using
inference in my writing...to get it to the right people.

And sad to say...it's not trying to go through the readers.

Good luck.

May 24, 2012 at 9:11PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


The White Ribbon was one of the best movies I have seen in years. Maybe on of the best movies ever (in my book)

May 27, 2012 at 3:23PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Would be mostly interested in a original/french version of Amour. Where can I find it ?

December 11, 2012 at 5:21AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Peter Horne

Great post.

July 31, 2013 at 10:44AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


haeqirdqmc Michael Haneke on Movies: 'The Ideal Film Scene Should Force the Spectator to Look Away' « nofilmschool haeqirdqmc haeqirdqmc haeqirdqmc

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