Funny Games : Michael Haneke interview

How did the remake of Funny Games come about?
I was asked to do it. Chris Coen asked me in Cannes whether I would like to do it. The first version of the film unfortunately didn’t get seen by its intended audience because it was in German, so I thought this would be a good opportunity for it to reach the audience it was originally made for. That is the only reason.

Did you know immediately that you would reconstruct the film shot-for-shot?
Perhaps not immediately, although I’m not sure any longer, but fairly soon, because I think that the film hasn’t lost any of its relevance. On the contrary, if anything it has become more relevant over the last ten years. And I didn’t see any need to add anything to it.

Do you mean the problem of violence per se or in the media?
In the media. The film is a film about the representation of violence in the media, not about violence per se. It is a self-reflexive film, after all.

So you never considered bringing the film up-to-date in any way because its relevance is undiminished.
In fact I think it is more relevant than ever because the pornography of violence in the media has increased.

What was it like coming back to one of your own films after ten years? Did you find any ‘mistakes’, or things that in retrospect you would have liked to change?
Certainly. If I was to make the film again from scratch there would certainly be one or two shots that I would do differently. But since I had decided to make a shot-for-shot remake I told myself that if that was the principle, then I should stick to it. Of course there are one or two shots I would do differently today, but I deliberately avoided doing that in order not to undermine the principle.

Did you work on location with a DVD of the first version?
No, no. Although when some of the shots were rather complicated in terms of the camerawork, then we did sometimes have a look at the original, but generally.... I always work from a storyboard, and in this case I had the two scripts. It’s quite amusing really. I have the old one and the new one – the old one has the drawings in it, and the new one has photographs of the first version stuck in to replace the drawings.

And did the actors study the first film beforehand?
Well they obviously saw the film because they wanted to know what they were letting themselves in for. But after that I suggested that they shouldn’t watch it again, because that would probably have paralyzed them. Otherwise they would be forced as actors either to do it differently deliberately or intentionally do it the same way. And that be disconcerting. That’s why I asked them not to watch it again.

Did you work on the translation of the dialogues yourself? I noticed a few small changes there. There’s a reference to ‘white trash’ and a laptop, which weren’t there in 1997.
Yes, yes. A number of translators worked on it. The first translator produced a rough translation, and then a second one worked through it. And then I went through it with an American director and scriptwriter and some small details were changed. For example in the Austrian version the wife doesn’t know the phone number for the police by heart. And when this came up I was told that that wouldn’t be the case in America. Everyone knows 911, especially after 9/11. So we had to change the dialogue a bit there. In the original he rings a friend because neither of them can remember the number for the police. And in this version he rings the police. These are small details that had to be adjusted to fit in with the American way of life. They are simply details of dialogue and have nothing to do with aesthetics.

It’s certainly worth comparing the two versions side by side.
I imagine its quite fun. I imagine there’s bound to be a double-DVD version one day.

On the other hand there are obviously differences. In the case of the actors, for example...
Yes of course. It would have been dreadful if that wasn’t the case. They are people, after all, not marionettes.

... I read that Naomi Watts was a condition for the remake. Why?
Yes, yes. Just as I had said that I would only make The Piano Teacher if Isabelle Huppert was in it, so in this case I said I would only do it if Naomi Watts was in it.

And why?
Simply because I think she is fantastic. Because in my opinion she is the best English-speaking actress in her age group. I had seen her in two films, in Mulholland Drive and then in 21 Grams, and in both cases I thought she was absolutely magnificent.

Do you think that as a result of Naomi Watts the film now has a stronger Anna, for example in the way she deals with her husband?
The character is the same of course. But it is obviously the case that the chemistry between the pair is different from the first couple. But that is what’s exciting about it. If that wasn’t the case, then the whole thing would simply be a mathematical exercise, after all. The work with the actors is always the most exciting thing.

Do you see the first version differently now that you’ve worked in France and in America?
No. I still stand by the first film. I just thought it was a shame that because it was in German it didn’t reach the audience that I had hoped for. And that’s why I remade it. That doesn’t change my opinion of the original film in any way whatsoever. I still stand by it.

I didn’t mean in a critical way. But do you have the feeling that your cinematic language has changed significantly in the last ten years?
It is always difficult to judge that oneself. I try to develop of course. Whether one succeeds in doing so is really up to others to decide.

Was it easier or more difficult to make the film this time?
More difficult, a lot more difficult. Firstly, because what normally happens when you have a script is that you go in search of locations and then you have to think about the picture definition. In this case we had the picture definition already and had to find the locations that would make it possible to create that same picture definition. And that was a lot more complicated of course. And on top of that there is the whole production apparatus in America, which is so much more cumbersome than was the case when I made the film the first time. Back then I shot it in six weeks and that was more than enough. But this time I had eight weeks and it was too little. It was incredibly tough and laborious.

Do you have a different view of American cinema now you have worked over there?
No. No. There are films there I like and those I don’t. That’s how it was before, and nothing has changed! laughs

Do you actually watch the films that Funny Games is directed against?
Rarely. Hardly at all. You have to keep yourself informed, so I watch the odd thing in order to know what’s going on. But in general I don’t watch that sort of thing because it makes me sick. I’m not a masochist after all! laughs

Not a masochist, perhaps, but a moralist?
I always have a bit of a problem with ‘isms’. It all depends on what you mean by a ‘moralist’. If you mean a preacher, then I hope I’m not one. But on the other hand there is such a thing as aesthetic morality. I think that respect for the audience is also a matter of morality, treating the audience as grown-ups. I don’t want to treat the audience as if they are more stupid than I am. And that is, if you like, a moral stance. At least it certainly isn’t a cynical one.

In the case of the first film I didn’t find myself laughing very much...
Yes. laughs

... but when I showed my students The Piano Teacher today they were certainly shocked, but they also laughed a good deal...
I always say that The Piano Teacher is my comedy! laughs

...and now, in the case of Funny Games US, I also found the film more humorous. Especially in the case of the two boys.
Yes. I think that’s because Michael Pitt und Brady Corbet are obviously virtuoso actors. Although Arno Frisch was also very good, he isn’t of course an actor, he’s an amateur who was able to empathize with the role on the basis of his own personality. But he certainly couldn’t serve up the cruel jokes in the text in the same way these two boys can.

Do you expect people to react differently to the American version of Funny Games ?
Well, I hope people will be moved by it. laughs That’s why one makes the films after all!

Could you imagine remaking any of your other films?
No. Definitely not. I’ve already been approached regarding Caché and my response was: I’m not going to do it. Apparently Ron Howard wants to and I’ve said fine, if they pay properly they can do it. They can rewrite it and do what they want with it. But then it has nothing to do with me.

So it could be done with other films as well?
I couldn’t care less. They can film whatever they want. It’s probably a good thing in fact, because then you’ll see the difference between my film and someone else’s! laughs I’ve nothing against it. But the only enquiry so far has been about Caché. And they have a contractual option on that, so we’ll see what happens. It’s been going on for a year or more. We’ll have to wait and see whether they do it or not. I’m quite relaxed about it all. If it happens, fine. But this film was a special case, because Funny Games was intended for an English-speaking audience all along. There’s the house in Funny Games, in Austria. You don’t normally get that kind of house in Austria, where you enter and there’s a staircase straight in front of you. It’s a typical American family house. I conceived it at the time, along with the title, for an English-speaking audience, and that didn’t work because of the German language. And then when I was asked whether I would do it, I thought it would be an opportunity for the film to reach the audience it was intended for. And that’s why it’s a completely unique case. I definitely won’t be remaking any of my other films.

Can I ask about the new film?
It’s an historical film. It ends with the outbreak of the First World War. It describes the education system in Protestant Germany. The education, if you like, of the Nazi generation, the people who became adults in the nineteen thirties.

And is it your own screenplay or an adaptation?
No, no, it’s original Haneke! laughs