Yves Montmayeur’s Michael H. Profession: Director (2013) comes at a time of heightened interest in the Austrian auteur, with his latest film, Amour (2012), securing Michael Haneke his second Palme d’Or, the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and even his own parody Twitter account, courtesy of Shortlist journalist Benjamin Lee. Undeniably one of the most important arthouse directors working today, Montmayeur’s fascinating insight into a master craftsman at work makes for compulsive viewing, even if it does fail to illicit much from a figure who’s renowned for keeping his cards close to his chest.
Opening with a scene from 1992’s Benny’s Video, Montmayeur’s reverential documentary depicts the making of Amour before moving on to 2009’s The White Ribbon, continuing to backtrack through the majority of Haneke’s celebrated oeuvre, picking through each film in an attempt to find the essence of his work. Complete with testimonials from such acting luminaries as Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant, Profession: Director allows us first hand accounts as to just how this stern and unflinching craftsman manages to create such captivating and hard-hitting films.
Montmayeur, who has previously been responsible for the ‘Making of’ documentaries which have accompanied Haneke’s work, also explores the Austrian’s other artistic outlets – principally, the filmmaking classes he teaches and the demanding techniques he implements regardless of whether he’s behind the camera or the back of a classroom. For a documentary about one of contemporary cinema’s most unforgiving masters, Profession: Director is a remarkably light-hearted and enjoyable experience. Whilst Haneke is nowhere near as flippant and juvenile as his Twitter parody, he’s remarkable playful on set, animated in his exuberance for filmmaking and happy to joke around between scenes.
At one point, Haneke remarks that he’s just as happy with winning awards as he is with his local butcher giving him a better quality slice of meat, and it’s clear that the director remains just as passionate today as he ever was about making films, which deal with the fears and anxieties of modern life. Described by his peers as a ‘genius’ and by himself as a control freak, Montmayeur’s voyeuristic biography of Haneke is an intriguing study of a modern master; which, for fans of his distinctive work, will undeniably be seen as a welcome window into their idols working methods. However, despite this behind-the-scenes dynamic, we regrettably learn very little about the man himself or the influence behind his acclaimed brand of cinema.
Renowned for his unwillingness to go into much depth about his work, this clandestine artist – who himself remarks “I don’t want to answer questions that make me interpret myself,” – remains just as ambiguous throughout, leaving us with little more than a limited portrait of a complex provocateur. Montmayeur’s Michael H. Profession: Director offers an alluring snapshot of a pioneering filmmaker at work. Whilst we learn very little about his techniques or discover anything personal that might explain his pessimistic outlook on life, sometimes it’s best to keep a little of the magic hidden.