Film professor Peter Brunette studies the works of Oscar-nominated filmmaker

Foreign films make up only 1 percent of the box office take in the United States. But, during the Academy Awards March 7, five films with subtitles will get a few extra moments in the spotlight.

“The White Ribbon,” a film by Austrian director Michael Haneke, is considered by many to be the front-runner among this year’s foreign film nominations. Haneke and his films are the subject of a new book by Peter Brunette, Reynolds Professor of Film Studies and director of the film studies program at Wake Forest.

Brunette’s book, “Michael Haneke” (University of Illinois Press), is the first full-length study of Haneke’s work and includes an analysis of the movie, which was originally shown at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Golden Palm.

Brunette will lead a discussion of “The White Ribbon” following a screening of the film at the A/Perture Theater in downtown Winston-Salem at 8 p.m. March 19. He will also sign copies of his book at the Wake Forest University Bookstore from 3-5 p.m. March 23.

“Michael Haneke is a completely brilliant filmmaker,” said Brunette, who is also a film critic for The Hollywood Reporter. “He is known for making you think and making you uncomfortable … very uncomfortable. His films give you something to talk about.”

Haneke’s most recent film, “The White Ribbon” is in black and white and set in a small Protestant village in northern Germany just before the start of World War I.

“It’s a richly achieved work that is superbly acted, a masterpiece of historical reconstruction as well as a powerful sociohistorical critique, and it demonstrates clearly the director’s ongoing ability to surprise,” Brunette writes in his book.

It was originally shot in color and then “the color was drained from it,” he says, “to create gorgeous, creamy images. It looks like 1913.” In this film, as in others, Haneke criticizes society for the lack of communication and the lack of humanity, and he explores violence and how it affects people.

“The White Ribbon” is the first German-language film Haneke has produced in 10 years. Before that he made three films in French, “Code Unknown,” “The Piano Teacher” and “Caché.”

“When I saw my first Haneke film, ‘Code Unknown,’ I already knew he was very controversial,” Brunette says. “I saw why his films were controversial, but got excited about ways to talk about them.”

Brunette studies art films — films intended to be serious artistic, not commercial works — and has written several books about art film directors including Roberto Rossellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Wong Kar-wai.

“Michael Haneke is an old school art film director,” Brunette says. “He knows music and art and puts all of that into his films.”

Brunette, who teaches courses on Asian, European and American independent film, says he’s not against blockbuster movies, but he encourages students to also look at art films.

“People should watch art films for the same reason they should read Virginia Woolf as well as Tom Clancy,” Brunette says. “These are films that have power and stay with you and can teach you something about life. Watch them for the same reason you would go to a museum to look at Vermeer. Don’t get me wrong. I like pop culture too. I watch the TV show ’24’ like a hawk and I loved ‘The Sopranos.’ But, there is a place for films that challenge preconceptions… for films that explore the meaning of being human in an important way.”

Haneke already has an international reputation, but a nomination in the foreign film category at the Oscars, and even better, the prize, is incredibly important to directors for getting funding for their next film, Brunette says.

Categories: Arts & Culture