Benjamin Lee: I didn't expect the real Michael Haneke to be a goofball

The writer of the spoof Twitter account about the notoriously chilly film-maker shares his view of the 'charming' man seen in a new documentary – and on being right about the stinky cat

A funny thing happened the other week while I was discussing my surreal alternate life as @Michael_Haneke. After discovering that I was behind the parody Twitter account, my acquaintance asked: "But how did you know about the cats?" For the uninitiated, one of the key obsessions of fake Haneke, a purposely lowbrow take on the famously austere director, is his "stinky cat". It was a recurring joke made to distance the two Hanekes even more, not being able to imagine the director of The White Ribbon making so many references to his cat's flatulence.

Yet, as I have recently found out, "real Haneke" is the proud owner of more than one cat, a fact that few people know. In the new documentary Michael H. Profession: Director, we see one of his cats scamper across the room while he is interviewed.

It's one of many moments in the revealing film about the Oscar-winning auteur to come as a shock. I had created the parody account as a response to his chilly, occasionally pretentious demeanour. It all started after I read an interview in which he was asked if he enjoyed any mainstream films and he replied "What about Once Upon a Time in the West, for example? Isn't that a mainstream film?" I could just imagine the delivery, with the sort of knowing tone that I ran with for the following months (it's the same way I imagined him "accidentally" forgetting that not everyone else has two "parms dorz").

I am a fan of his work, but off-camera, Haneke frustrated me. He often confessed that his excruciatingly cruel thriller Funny Games was intended as a deliberate piece of provocation and if you endured the whole film, it was because you needed to be taught a lesson. I have always regarded it as ruthlessly effective cinema – and this rationale as patronising.

In the documentary, however, Haneke comes off as refreshingly candid. He has a charming sense of humour. Not that I had thought him humourless (there are darkly comic moments in The Piano Teacher and Funny Games), but I hadn't expected him to be a goofball. For example, when assembled with the Time of the Wolf cast, he pulls the classic bunny ears prank behind one of the child actors. Not what you might expect from the man who believes that all movies should assault the viewer.

But it's not all sweetness and light. While we see him giggling behind the camera, we also see the trademark strictness and control. "Everyone knows he's a guy you'd better not screw with," Amour star Jean-Louis Trintignant says. "We don't have fun. He has fun … we're afraid. It's very tense."

It's the sort of comment that we're used to hearing about Haneke and it's this darker side that helped to inform the parody. Haneke's dismissal of mainstream cinema was a favourite theme. I had used it as fuel for a number of tweets, such as following up mercilessly every reference to "juliet binosh" with the film Dan in Real Life. In the documentary, we see a funny exchange in which Haneke discusses an "idiotic" offer to direct a dialogue-free action film about a father and son fighting animals in the jungle. His bemused reaction is understandable, and invites sympathy for his view of Hollywood.

When I started tweeting as Haneke, I was intrigued by what his reaction would be. I was expecting apathy and possibly contempt but he expressed intrigue and, yes, a small amount of contempt. "I tried to read some of the posts but my English isn't good enough to allow me that," he said in an interview. "I'm really not interested in what he's writing, but I'm fascinated by the fact that 25,000 people have subscribed to this feed of nonsense!"

I fear that my affectionate spoofing has helped to prove his thoughts on the mainstream to be horribly accurate. But at least I've shone a light on those unsung cats of his LOL.

Benjamin Lee used to run the Twitter spoof account @Michael_Haneke. He is deputy editor of


Benjamin Lee

The GuardianTramp

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