Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or win could see a new audience exposed to the Austrian director's style, says the UK's pre-eminent expert on the filmmaker.

Haneke won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday for his sombre drama The White Ribbon ahead of the more widely known likes of Quentin Tarantino and Ken Loach and could now receive a significant commercial boost, according to Catherine Wheatley, author of the recently-published Michael Haneke's Cinema: The Ethic of the Image.

Ms Wheatley, a research associate at the University of Southampton, explained Haneke has a long-standing relationship with the annual festival at Cannes after premiering his debut feature film, The Seventh Continent, in the south of France, and claiming the Grand Prix for The Piano Teacher ("the film which earned this year's jury president Isabelle Huppert a best actress award").

"Whether they approve of the films' ethical bent or not, critics have consistently praised Haneke's technical skill and aesthetic rigour; this award would seem to be a long-overdue acknowledgement of this inarguable calibre," she explained.

"However, in terms of box office he's remained somewhat in the shadow of more flashily provocative enfants terrible such as Lars Von Trier and Gaspar Noé.

"The Cannes win, following the unexpected commercial success of Caché in 2006, might now bring him more fully into the spotlight."

However, Ms Wheatley added that The White Ribbon - a black-and-white film which tells of a small German village beset by a series of tragedies on the eve of World War I - could still be a daunting prospect for cinemagoers unfamiliar with Haneke's work.

"It's interesting though that this is Haneke's first German-language film in over a decade, filmed entirely in monochrome and completely devoid of music – hardly the most accessible film from a director with a reputation for rather arduous, if rewarding, works," she commented.

"So I'm curious to see whether it will prove as popular with international audiences as it has done with the Cannes jury."

Catherine Wheatley is the first English speaking author to be published on the subject of Michael Haneke and her book, Michael Haneke's Cinema: The Ethic of the Image, is out now, published by Berghahn.

25/05/2009 15:24:54