Renowned arthouse director Michael Haneke has criticised the #MeToo movement as a “witch hunt” that “should be left in the Middle Ages”. In a February 9 interview with the Austrian newspaper Kurier, the director of Cache and Amour said that he condemned “rape or coercion” but that “…this hysterical pre-judgment which is spreading now, I find absolutely disgusting. And I don’t want to know how many of these accusations related to incidents 20 or 30 years ago are primarily statements that have little to do with sexual assault”.

Haneke’s remarks follow an editorial in January by French acting legend Catherine Deneuve and others that condemned the #MeToo movement, which rose out of allegations of sexual harassment and violence in Hollywood. The editorial in the French newspaper Le Monde said that the movement restricted sexual freedom. Deneuve later apologised for the editorial.

Haneke said that the debate over sexual violence was troubling because it emanated from “blind rage that’s not based on facts and the prejudices that destroy the lives of people whose crime has not been proved in numerous cases”. He added, “People are simply assassinated in the media, ruining lives and careers.”

The nature of the conversation over sexual harassment had left no room for nuance, Haneke noted: “Any shitstorm that even comes out on the forums of serious online news outlets after such ‘revelations’ poisons the social climate. And this makes every argument on this very important subject even more difficult. The malignancy that hits you on the internet often stifles you. This new puritanism imbued with a hatred of men that comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement worries me.”

This “new puritanism” is making complex explorations of sexuality difficult, Haneke observed. A film like Nagisa Oshima’s pathbreaking In The Realm Of The Senses, which explores a woman’s sexual obsession for her lover and features explicit and unsimulated lovemaking, could not be made today “because the funding institutions would not allow this, anticipating obedience to this terror”. He added, “Suspected actors are cut out of movies and TV series in order not to lose (audiences). Where are we living? In the new Middle Ages?”