Michael Haneke on adapting Jelinek and Kafka

The Austrian filmmaker discusses his approach to adaptation in an interview with The Paris Review
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Michael Haneke

Luisa Zielinski (Interviewer)

Still, tell me a little more about the process of adapting literary works for the screen. The Piano Teacher isn’t the only example in your oeuvre. There’s also your made-for-TV adaptation of Kafka’s Castle. What struck me about the latter is that it’s almost aberrantly faithful to the novel.

Michael Haneke

The Piano Teacher was the only time I adapted a novel for the cinema, and that in itself was something of a coincidence. I didn’t write the script for myself, but for a friend who had acquired the rights. My friend tried for ten years to secure a budget for the film, but it didn’t work out. In the end, I was persuaded to direct the film myself, even though that hadn’t been my original intention at all. I agreed to do it on the condition that Isabelle Huppert play the lead role. And she did.


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A still from Michael Haneke’s The Castle (1998)

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A still from Michael Haneke’s The Castle (1998)

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A still from Michael Haneke’s The Castle (1998)

In any case, there are considerable differences in adapting literature for TV and cinema. At the outset the process is quite similar—you will need to read and analyze the book and understand the individual plot lines in order to rearrange them later according to your cinematographic vision. My adaptation of The Piano Teacher departs considerably from the novel in terms of structure, and that is due to the fact that it is an adaptation I conceived for cinema. But whenever I adapted literary works for TV, I adhered painstakingly to the original. There is hardly a line in The Castle that isn’t quoted ­verbatim from the novel. This is in large part thanks to the “educational mandate” of state-funded TV in Germany. The work of a TV director consists in making the viewer want to read the novel. It’s different with a cinematic work. In that case, the book becomes the filmmaker’s intellectual playground while the novel and its author recede into the background. [Read More]

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