Every Michael Haneke Film on Blu

After finally working my way through a giant, black box of blu-rays, you might think I'd be hesitant to immediately tackle another... but you'd be wrong!  I'm jumping right into 'Le Cinema de Micheal Haneke,' the nearly definitive 2013 French boxed set from TF1 that compiles twelve Michael Haneke films in HD, many for the first and only time.  These twelve comprise his entire filmography except for Happy End, because that film wasn't made until after the set's release, and his earliest television works which remain largely unreleased in any format anywhere in the world.  I've already updated all my preexisting Haneke posts to include the discs from this box (surprisingly, the TF1 Funny Games is an upgrade over Criterion's more recent release):
    Now, The Seventh Continent, Benny's Video and 71 Fragments Of a Chronology of Chance are often grouped together as Haneke's "glacial trilogy" the rather plain "Michael Haneke Trilogy," or just "early works."  There's really nothing particular binding these three films together... the "glacial" tone could be applied to many of Haneke's works just as much as these three, and they weren't even created consecutively.  For example, I've managed to see Die Rebellion, which he made between the second and third film, and it's at least as good as any of these.  But these particular ones are the three oldest that have been released on home video worldwide, so they're frequently packaged together as a rough collection of early works.  None of them are so early, though, that they don't stand up as fully expertly crafted, professional works.  There are no student films, experimental shorts or rough examples of a struggling filmmaker still finding his footing here.  These films are as good, and in some cases better, than many of his later films.  They just happen to be generally early-ish.
    What a way to get started.  1989's The Seventh Continent depicts three days in a family's life, leading up to and including when they decide to destroy all of their own possessions and take their own lives together.  This is apparently based on a true incident Haneke read about, and the film takes the decidedly unsentimental tact of simply documenting all the details of the incident, rather than attempting to melodramatically explain why.  It's very methodically paced, and can be a bit frustrating if you don't know where in advance the minimal plot is leading to, and when it finally arrives at its most shocking moments, it's still depicted entirely matter-of-factly.  It's not hard to guess why audience's would call the film "glacial."  But it's actually all the powerful and heart breakingly relatable for not trying to fill in the blanks with platitudes or wrong guesses.  Three of our fellow humans spent their lives this way, and we're given far more of the facts of the case than we'd get from our friends or neighbors - conversations they had with their daughter's teacher at school, what they said to the banker as they withdrew all their money they literally flushed down the toilet, and what they wrote in the note they left behind - and we're left to find as much understanding from them as we can or can't.
    1) 2006 US Kino DVD; 2) 2009 AE UK DVD; 3) 2013 FR TF1 BD.
    What we have here may at first appear to be a rather subtle, but is actually a fairly strong progression from the original US DVD from Kino, to Artificial Eye's UK DVD "Trilogy" boxed set and finally TF1's blu-ray.  The DVDs are clearly going for a rough 1.78:1 framing (though Kino blacks out some of the overscan area to 1.76), then the BD comes around and pillarboxes it to its presumably more correct 1.67 AR.  The Kino disc also displays some troublesome interlacing (a recurring issue with them, as you'll read below), which AE corrected.  So while the two DVDs could be said to feature essentially the same transfer, the UK disc was actually rather superior.  And then the blu.  TF1 brings a serious boost to HD with increased clarity and detail (you can actually read the numbers on the wrecked test car in the second set of shots), authentically captured film grain and no evidence of tinkering or weak compression.  Their box is full of impressive scans on dual-layer discs.  I was anticipating an upgrade over my old DVDs, of course, but TF1 really exceeded my expectations.

    Every disc offers the original German mono track with optional English subtitles, but the blu-ray bumps it up to DTS-HD (and also throws in French subs).  All three discs include the same illuminating interview with Haneke, but here's where TF1 falls short.  Theirs is the only one of the three not to subtitle it into English.  TF1 also has a new interview with a French critic, but that isn't translated either.  In fact, just to get ahead of it, I'll tell you now that none of the special features in their boxed set are English-friendly.
    In 1991, Haneke made a documentary (Nachruf für einen Mörder) about a young man who shot his parents and then a whole party of his friends.  But rather than following the traditional conventions you might expect, Haneke specifically focused on the television programs that were airing in Austria at the time, and created a sort of A/V collage.  So I think we can imagine some of the issues Haneke was still working through when he made Benny's Video in 1992, about a young man (Funny Games' Arno Frisch) who films himself shooting a friend.  It's certainly not a one-to-one recreation of Nachruf's crime, nor an exploration of the same issues, but there are definitely intermingling themes of reality, young peoples' disassociation with it (to the point willingness to commit of murder) and the media they consume.  This movie takes a fascinating turn into how his parents (including Funny Games' Ulrich Muhe) handle the crime, but the heart of this film is Benny and his isolation from the people around him, something which probably rings even truer in this social media age then it did in the 90s.
    1) 2006 US Kino DVD; 2) 2009 AE UK DVD; 3) 2013 FR TF1 BD.
    It really is pretty much the same story each time: Kino is 1.76 and interlaced (I'm pretty sure due to sloppy PAL to NTSC conversion), AE fixes interlacing and adjusts the AR to 1.78, and TF1 pillarboxes to 1.67 and is obviously interlacing-free.  AE's framing betrays that it may be a little too wide with the discoloration visible along the left edge of the frame.  TF1 is as attractively filmic as you ever could've asked for and again bumps up the original German mono to DTS-HD.  All three discs offer optional English subs, with TF1 including French ones as well. And just like Seventh Continent, all three editions include a great interview with Haneke, but only TF1 fails to subtitle it for us.  They also have another exclusive, but not English-friendly, interview with a French critic.
    We wrap up our trilogy with the off-puttingly titled 71 Fragments Of a Chronology of Chance from 1994.  This one's still an excellent film, but packs less of an emotional punch, largely because it never settles on a main character, and feels a little more hung up on its gimmick than any of Haneke's other work.  The film is literally broken up into seventy-one little sections, where we bounce back and forth between seemingly unrelated groups of characters going about their daily lives: a young Romanian boy who illegally immigrates into Austria, a young couple who adopt a girl that has trouble getting along outside of her orphanage, a college student in a ping-pong tournament, an old man who's lost touch with his family... all interspersed with television news footage of the war in Bosnia and the Kurdish–Turkish conflict.  Eventually we'll learn how everyone is tied together, and thankfully the performances along the way are quite strong; but the film is really asking you to be patient for a long time before giving you much emotional resonance to latch onto.  I suppose you could say the same for The Seventh Continent, but even after this film's big climax, it still feels more like you've undertaken an intellectual exercise rather than a fully personal experience.
    1) 2006 US Kino DVD; 2) 2009 AE UK DVD; 3) 2013 FR TF1 BD.
    I could really cut and paste my write-up of the past two films again here, except the sliver of extra info on AE's disc is on the right this time instead of the left.  Kino is still 1.76 and interlaces, AE is 1.78 non-interlaced, and TF1 is 1.67 and in beautiful HD, including lossless sound.  Things will get less repetitive after this trilogy, because it won't always be Kino/ AE/ TF1.  But for now, you guess it: they all have the same Haneke, plus TF1 has an extra French critic (it's not always the same guy, by the way), but the blu-rays' extras are not English-friendly.  So TF1 has by far the best presentation of the films, but you might want to see if you can find a cheap copy of the DVDs for the extras.  At least that's something you won't have to bother with for this next film.
    1997's The Castle is the film I was most excited for when buying this set.  I was just dying to finally own this one in HD.  The Castle is based on Franz Kafka's unfinished novel of the same title, and I will warn you up front, that the film only adapts as far as Kafka wrote, ending without ever reaching a conclusion.  That's disappointing, but no more so than the situation with the novel readers have been dealing with for the last century.  It's still a compelling, literally nightmarish story to get drawn into, similar in a lot of obvious ways to The Trial; and it's shocking how few cinematic adaptations there have ever been of Kafka's work, making this doubly essential.  The Funny Games' couple, Ulrich Mühe and Susanne Lothar, star as two working class people hopelessly entangled in an impossible governmental bureaucracy that reaches absurdist proportions, with Haneke proving an ideal director to breathe life into Kafka's combination of biting satire with human tragedy.
    1) 2007 US Kino DVD; 2) 2013 FR TF1 BD.
    In some ways, this film's story is much like the previous three.  It was again released by Kino with some unfortunate interlacing.  There was an Artificial Eye DVD released in the UK, though I don't have it this time.  But based on pattern recognition alone, I think it's safe to assume their disc was a bit of an improvement.  Again, it's marginally cropped in the overscan area to 1.76:1, but this time the BD is matted wide to 1.85:1.  This film looks grungier, because unlike the rest of the films in this set, it was shot on 16mm, but the blu is still sharper and free of the compression noise you find on the DVD.  The color timing is also distinctly different this time, too, looking more lifelike and revealing more info in the shadows.  This film's got a stereo mix, in DTS-HD on the blu, with optional subtitles on both.

    There aren't any extras for TF1 to fail to translate this time.  Kino is barebones and the AE disc has a generic documentary about Haneke called 24 Realities Per Second that doesn't even mention The Castle.  It's good, though, and worth seeing; but you can find it on other discs, like the Australian DVD of Cache.  So you don't really need it here.  TF1 does have another one of their French critic pieces, but as ever, it's untranslated.
    Speaking of Cache, that's our next film.  And aren't you glad?  We're through with the crummy Kino DVDs.  Now that we're reaching the more mainstream, successful stage of Haneke's career, we've got nice, higher quality DVDs from Sony.  And even better, a blu-ray from Artificial Eye.  And as you'll soon see, that's a very good thing.
    By 2005's Cache, we're deep in Haneke's French period.  Juliette Binoche stars in this story of a seemingly idyllic middle class family that's being stalked by a mysterious stranger.  Like David Lynch's Lost Highway's before it, this family starts receiving anonymous videos of their home that don't need to voice any specific threat to strike terror.  And also like Lost Highway, this couple may not be the innocent victims they initially feel themselves to be either.  But where Lynch speeds off into the land of fantasy and the surreal, Haneke turns its unlikely premise inward, finding its strength in a more human truth.
    1) 2006 US Sony DVD; 2) 2008 AE UK BD; 3) 2013 FR TF1 BD.
    Goodbye interlacing!  There are super thin slivers of black around a few of the edges, but basically all three discs weigh in at 1.78:1 and seem to use the same root master.  Cache is a film that was edited and released in the early days of digital, so there's some funky edge enhancement and other unpleasant tinkering going on, but I think it's inherent to the film, not the fault of any of these DVD companies.  Naturally, the DVD is softer and smudgier being SD, but being such an old blu, unfortunately AE's disc suffers, too.  Yeah, they're using the same transfer, but the encoding is much weaker on AE's disc, smoothing away most of the grain and losing the rest to pixelation.  TF1's blu still has all the digital flaws that've been baked into the film, but it's distinctly more filmic and fully presented.
    All three discs present the original French 5.1 mix, though for some reason both blus offer the option of a lossless and lossy version.  But here's the tricky part: only the US DVD and UK BD offer English subtitles.  TF1 only has French audio and subtitles, which to be absolutely clear, means the French blu is not English friendly.  ...That's what I meant earlier about it being a good thing the AE disc exists.

    The US and UK discs both have the same two primary extras.  A nice, half-hour making of feature and an interview with Haneke that's almost as long.  The TF1 blu has the making of, but not the interview, substituting instead their own interview with a French critic.  But just like the feature itself, TF1's extras are not English friendly.  So it's really of no use unless you understand French.
    We finish up with possibly Haneke's greatest achievement, Amour.  He's always been a master at presenting emotional human drama without any false sentimentality, but never has he managed to do it and still touch us so deeply.  Surely, this is at least in part due to the fact that this is such a personal story for Haneke, apparently based on his own family's experience.  He even designed the apartment the film is set in to perfectly mirror his parents' old flat.  The infallible cast, including Jean-Louis Trintignant, Hiroshima Mon Amour's Emmanuelle Riva and the ever reliable Isabelle Huppert, though, deserve at least as much credit.  This is a movie that just gets right down to the brass tacks of love and death, and made all its 2013 Oscar competition seem like trite, superficial child's play.
    1) 2013 US Sony DVD; 2) 2013 US Sony BD; 3) 2013 FR TF1 BD.
    All these discs came out in the same year, apparently use the same DCP and apart from the DVD being in SD and all the softness and lower resolution that entails, are essentially indistinguishable.  They're all matted to 1.85:1 and happily, they're free of all that kind of haloing and nonsense of the Cache discs.  This film has been handled much more elegantly.  Film grain is still very light, this isn't exactly a fresh 4k remaster, but for BDs of their time, they're quite good.  All three discs feature the original French 5.1 mix, in DTS-HD on the blus.  The TF1 also includes a French descriptive track.  But as with Cache, only the US discs include English subs, so again, the French blu isn't English friendly.

    The US discs feature another excellent half-hour making of, and a Q&A with Haneke that's less rewarding.  They don't talk about Amour because, as the interviewer starts to, people in the audience shout out that they don't want the film spoiled (what he was saying wasn't actually a spoiler anyway), so in turn, the whole event was kind of spoiled.  It's still somewhat interesting for serious Haneke fans, though; and they have the trailer, too.  The TF1 blu has the making of, not the Q&A, but it's own interview with a French critic, plus an eight minute excerpt from a feature-length documentary about Trintignant.  None of TF1's extras are English friendly.
    So, let's bottom line all this.  First of all, this boxed set is essential for any serious Haneke fan because it has five films that are only available in on blu from TF1.  And they're all excellent, high end discs.  Funny Games is actually better here than the 2019 Criterion release.  But at the same time, five of the films aren't English friendly (Code Unknown, Cache, The Piano Teacher, The White Ribbon and Amour), and it's further disappointing that none of the extras are.  So ideally, you want to get this set and then double-dip on at least five of the titles... more if you take a proper in extras.  But in the end, it's worth it, because Haneke is flat-out one of the greats, and hey, this box isn't that expensive.  I've also seen some sellers on Amazon.fr and Ebay.fr take out some of the discs and sell them individually, so you could try getting just the exclusives that way.  But I found, once you got up to three or four of them, you'd be paying more than you would be for the whole box.  And it's a very stylish, carefully fitted box, by the way, not one of those flimsy cardboard deals.  So I imagine even a lot of serious Haneke fans will be reluctant, but I do recommend it.  And I seriously don't see Criterion or anybody else getting around to The Castle and stuff in the remotely near future.

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