It’s not until Michael H. Profession: Director is almost over that it becomes apparent exactly how well its approach is suited to its subject. Yves Montmayeur’s documentary on the career and creative process of the celebrated Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke is structured ingeniously: consisting of brief looks at Haneke directing each of his features in reverse chronological order, interviews with Haneke and actors he’s worked with (Jean-Louis Trintignant, Isabelle Huppert, and Emmanuelle Riva most prominently), and nothing else, the design of the greater piece doesn’t really become clear until Haneke, in an interview, states his belief that a film should consist only of that which is essential. In that sense, this a film not only about but of Haneke.
Montmayeur’s clear reverence for Haneke works both for and against the film. As a strict document of Haneke’s process and career, it’s everything a Haneke fan or dedicated cinephile in general could ask. Rare—and extremely candid—footage of Haneke discussing everything from his darkest, starkest fears (and their role in inspiring every bit of creative work he does) to a hilariously misguided offer allegedly made him by a Hollywood studio for a dialogue-free action movie set in a jungle. Points in between are numerous and deeply discussed. By the end of the film, one has grown used to, and indeed fond of, Haneke’s Austrian-accented French (mostly; he speaks some of his native German as well) calmly and amiably discourse on violence, pornography, and creative philosophy. By the documentary’s end, Haneke is not exactly not the meticulous, cerebral genius of his reputation, but rather a meticulous, cerebral genius with a sense of humor about certain things and a refreshing matter-of-fact-ness about what he does and why he does it.
The film does not make the slightest attempt to reach out to non-initiates to the oeuvre of Haneke. This isn’t a huge problem, as it’s a documentary made largely to celebrate Haneke’s work in an essentialist style that his devotees would greatly appreciate, not something meant for a mass audience. And Haneke, with consecutive Palmes D’Or and now an Oscar to his name, is one of the most celebrated film directors in the world. Despite this purpose and Haneke’s undeniable stature as an artist, the documentary (especially in the early going) still slightly overplays its assumption that its audience is utterly and immutably fascinated by Haneke not only as an artist but as a human being. This fades slightly as the film progresses and its subject actually becomes as interesting as it thinks he is. But there’s still a brief initial rough patch where it may cause a viewer of insufficiently acute cinephilia or possessed of too-faint Haneke agape to tune out.
Those who stick with it (or are already onboard the Haneke Express) will find a fine documentary indeed. In progressing through Haneke’s entire career from Amour on backward and finally, ultimately, returning to Amour once again, his progression and maturation as an artist is highlighted vividly, as is his paradoxical (or maybe parallel) eternality and immovability. Michael H. Profession: Director is a deeply educational experience, both on Haneke as an artist, thinker, and man, and, in practical terms, a portrait of a professional, no-nonsense approach to the creative process.
If any of the above sounds like a slog, this may not be the filmmaker doc for you. But, if it appeals even in the slightest, Michael H. Profession: Director is one to check out.