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A Minute With: Michael Haneke and the story behind "Amour"

Director Michael Haneke, Golden Globe winner for best foreign film "Amour" arrives at the HBO after-party following the 70th annual Golden G
Director Michael Haneke, Golden Globe winner for best foreign film "Amour" arrives at the HBO after-party following the 70th annual Golden G

By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Austrian director Michael Haneke said his stark drama "Amour," which has scored a surprising five Oscar nominations including for Best Picture, was inspired by his own experiences dealing with an aged aunt facing death.

The unflinching take on devotion, growing old and illness has also picked up Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Film and Best Actress for Emmanuelle Riva's performance as bed-ridden Anne.

Haneke, who is also known for 2001's "The Piano Teacher" and 1997's "Funny Games" and its 2007 Hollywood remake, is the favorite to win the Best Foreign Film award for which he was nominated in 2010 for "The White Ribbon."

Haneke, 70, spoke to Reuters from Madrid, where he is directing the Mozart opera "Cosi Fan Tutte," about the film, what it would mean to win an Oscar, and his future plans.

Q: What do you make of some of the critics who, in their praise, have called the drama a horror film for its graphic portrayal of the end of life?

A: I believe that it has been a bit exaggerated how the film has been portrayed. The film is shocking, but the truth is always shocking. It's no walk in the park, but it's difficult and serious, and that makes it contemplative. I assume that I have an adult audience and that they'll understand the situation. The film shouldn't be a distraction (from life) - as many films are - but the film is also not meant to shock.

Q: What intentions did you set out with?

A: I wanted to make a film about how we deal with the suffering of the people that we love. I could've certainly made a film about a couple married for 40 years with a child who dies of cancer. That would only be a tragic, singular case and less representative. But we all grow old and nearly all of us get sick and that subject matter is more general and concerns nearly everyone one of us.

I've also heard in the reception to the film from people that have said it's just like what happened to me and my family. Indeed, that crosses generations as young people live through how their grandparents die or become ill or simply suffer, and now their parents are in the same situation. It's a matter that affects everyone.

Q: Did you have an inspiration for the film?

A: The story arose out of my family. My aunt killed herself at the age of 93 and before she did it she asked me whether or not I could help her. I loved her very much and to watch her suffer was very difficult, but I certainly couldn't help her (kill herself) because I'd be thrown in jail. Personally, I don't believe I could've done it anyway.

Q: Did you expect "Amour" to receive five Oscar nominations?

A: No, certainly not. I had hoped and figured ... that one or another nomination would come our way but I was naturally, like many, pleasantly surprised.

Q: How will it be to be a star of sorts at the Oscars?

A: Star? Those who are invited are of course stars (laughs) ... I certainly find it delightful to get dressed up with these people that the entire world knows and to compete alongside them. It's quite enjoyable.

Q: What will it be like if "Amour" wins?

A: I'll be happy. We're happy about any prize but you don't make films to win awards. Nonetheless, you're certainly quite happy about the recognition. For the film, it also makes it possible for many more to see it. And each prize piques the interest of more people to watch the film.

Q: How much longer do you intend to keep making films?

A: As long as I can. I don't know that answer. I could drop dead tomorrow or fall seriously ill. I'm no longer 25 years old but I don't plan on calling it quits anytime soon, and perhaps that annoys someone somewhere.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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