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Award-winning director and all-round cinematic genius Michael Haneke has withdrawn his latest film Amour from the Austrian Film Awards after being informed that the movie won’t be eligible for the big prizes at the AFA, but only for Direction, Screenplay and Editing. This is due to Amour being filmed in French, not having an Austrian certificate of origin, and lacking in ‘significant Austrian cultural influence’.

Sounds like a hissy fit, right? An “if I can’t have the biggest slice of cake, then I don’t want any at all” type of situation. Well, perhaps not. Haneke’s move is generally being read as a noble gesture which will allow other Austrian films, and filmmakers, to get a look-in. Haneke is undoubtedly the most internationally successful Austrian director since the heyday of Billy Wilder and Fritz Lang – and, unlike them, he rarely makes a film in English. Taking his rather dominant hat out of the ring completely for this year’s awards will suddenly make things very interesting indeed for everybody still in the running.

Veit Heiduschka, Haneke’s producer, wrote a letter to the AFA in which he explained that Haneke “…is of the opinion that the Austrian Film Awards will help other Austrian directors realise future films more than would be the case with him. Without vilifying the Austrian Film Awards, he refers to the fact that he has already been honoured internationally for this film, and another Austrian film should have the chance to be honoured.”

It’s certainly true that Amour, which centres on the struggles of an elderly couple after one of them has a series of strokes, really doesn’t have anything left to prove. The film has been scooping up brass rings left right and centre, at the European Film Awards (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Film), at a whole gaggle of Film Critics Awards (including LA, Boston and New York) and at the Cannes Film Festival ( the Palme d’Or). It’s also nominated for a Golden Globe, and is expected to snare at least a few nods at the Oscars this year.

So, it might look to the untrained eye as though Haneke was attempting to snub the AFA, but the more likely truth is that he genuinely wants to allow other films a clear playing field. Tipped for the top awards is Florian Flicker’s Grenzgänger, which has a total of seven nominations. The awards will take place on January 23rd at the Rathaus in Vienna.

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