Humble and ‘in Awe’

Opinion | Margaret Childs | March 2013

Christoph Waltz and Michael Haneke, the two celebrity faces of Austrian film (Photos: Creative Commons, Georges Biard (r.))


Michael Haneke and Christoph Waltz don’t have all that much in common. One is a seasoned director, a believer in artistic filmmaking, who casually accepted his golden statuette in Hollywood on 24 February. Two of his previous films had been nominated, but Amour was the first to put Haneke on the stage of the Dolby Theatre.

The other winner, with his second Oscar was thankful, "in awe", as he put it in his response. The actor commended Quentin Tarantino’s script and all the other nominees in his category, calling them "role models".

As Haneke took the stage, the announcer remarked that "this is the second movie from Austria to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film", after Stefan Ruzowitzky’s The Counterfeiters, in 2008. Haneke called it an honour and thanked his colleagues and his wife – "the centre of my life" – and the two stars of his film. All together his speech lasted less than a minute.

"It’s important to get prizes," he told reporters before the event, "and for the audience, this is one of the most important prizes." Again, this was not an opinion, but rather an observation, a statement of fact. When Austrian and German television reporters wished him luck before the ceremony, he responded with a smile: "Then I won’t say thank you, otherwise I’ll jinx it."

What Waltz and Haneke do have in common is the attitude: matter of fact, no contrived emotions. Both sincerely enjoy what they do and being part of the growing appreciation for the Austrian film industry. For such a small country, the film scene here must be doing something right.

In most of Haneke’s interviews, he talks about the process and what decisions go in to making a film. His perfectionism is genuine. He wants to get it right, for the sake of the art form.

While Haneke did what was required, not wishing to take the focus away from Amour itself, both ate a piece of humble pie. In the press conference after the Oscars, the overwhelmed Waltz couldn’t stop grinning, and talking on top of himself, ending with an abashed but gleeful, "I’m sorry about the stammering".

Maybe Austrian film breeds this. If so, we’re in luck and have even more to be proud of.

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