He had just been booed by festival audiences after his film The Piano Teacher had won the Grand Jury prize. He has a goofy giggle that undoes his bearded, patrician demeanour; he looked and sounded like Santa Claus ho-ho-hoing on helium. And his giggling, people more pious than me might think, was misplaced: It was, trust me, no laughing matter.
Unremitting was what it was, and some festival-goers hated it. But Haneke is nothing if not perverse.
Seven years later, I hear that giggle again. I've just asked Haneke how come, of all the directors in all the world, the high-minded Austrian auteur has been suckered into slumming it in Hollywood.
Why has he remade his brutal German-language thriller Funny Games for the studio suits of Warner Brothers? After all, the year-old director has for the past two decades excoriated Hollywood's diet of sex, violence and occasional torture, condemning what it does to supine film-goers the world over.
Hasn't Haneke become everything he despises? When I first envisioned Funny Games in the mids, it was my intention to have an American audience watch the movie. It is a reaction to a certain American cinema, its violence, its naivety, the way American cinema toys with human beings. In many American films, violence is made consumable.
But because I made Funny Games in German with actors not familiar to US audiences, it didn't get through to the people who most needed to see it. Cinematic history teems with directors who have gone to Hollywood and made lamentable versions of their own films.
Buffs will tell you about the shabbiness of Hideo Nakata's US remakes of his Ring movies, and the pointlessness of Takashi Shimizu's remakes of The Grudge horror flicks. Then there was poor old George Sluizer, the Dutchman induced by Hollywood to tack on a silly, cynical happy ending to the remake of his thriller The Vanishing.
He struggles with his German translator for the right English word. I say 'No' but they ask me the same question the next day. I had to fight hard to get what I wanted, in a way I wasn't used to. A pair of suave, preppy, sinisterly white-gloved young men talk themselves into the house, and then spend the next hour and a half steadily torturing the family.
Otherwise, the film remains substantially the same - although, as some US critics have sourly noted, Watts spends more time being tortured in her underwear than Susanne Lothar did in the original.
Haneke's only condition in agreeing to remake Funny Games was that Watts was in the film. It is an inspired piece of casting, not just because Haneke admires her work "I thought she was extraordinary in both Mulholland Drive and 21 Grams," he says , but also because Watts is fast becoming the queen of the Hollywood remake: But even Watts had never appeared in a shot-for-shot remake - until Funny Games.
Consider, for instance, Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock's Psycho, a film rubbished everywhere. Haneke insists his remake is worthwhile. But also I had nothing to add to the original, so I didn't change it.
What has happened in the 10 years since I made the original makes it even more worthwhile to remake for Americans. It's the new thing. Another technique he uses is to have the camera move away from the moment of violence, so that the viewer imagines rather than sees what is going on. Haneke says he learned a great deal from Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.
I always run the risk of being misinterpreted, but I am not going to help viewers in their violent fantasies. In his second film, Benny's Video , the eponymous teenager makes a video of a murder he commits while his parents are on holiday. When the parents return, we, the audience, see the tape for the second time. For Haneke, showing the video again was a technique to challenge audiences.
You are able to think about it analytically, rather than just being bewildered and carried along by the experience of watching a murder as you were when you saw it for the first time. You question your role as a voyeur. Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil play a bourgeois Parisian couple who awake each morning to find a video tape on their doorstep, showing the family's manoeuvres.
Are they being blackmailed? What wild fantasies does watching these tapes unleash in its viewers? As in the lesser French thriller The Serpent, a terrible secret seems to propel the action: Auteuil, growing up in Algeria, betrayed the young boy his parents had taken in, resulting in his suicide. Maybe, then, the tapes have been left by vengeful Algerians, striving to drive this French couple mad. Hidden works simultaneously as a critique of French imperialism, of the paranoia induced by surveillance technology, and as an analysis of voyeurism, while leaving the nature of the crime - even whether there was any crime committed at all - satisfyingly unresolved.
But with Hollywood films, the manipulation of the viewer is so total that they don't know they're being manipulated. As he recently told the New York Times: The danger hidden in storytelling became clear - how easy it was to manipulate the crowd. Some US critics have balked at this critique of their national cinema. A critic at the Boston Globe recently wrote that Haneke was working from "a specious premise, that film-school Brechtian devices can bring on mass enlightenment".
The more practical point is that the multiplex cinemagoers whom Haneke seeks to free from their mental shackles are the least likely to see his film: Maybe, 10 years after the original Funny Games, Haneke has again missed his target audience. Would he work in Hollywood again? It will be set in at a German rural school where suspicious events, seemingly instances of ritual punishment, take place.
It sounds like familiar, fruitful territory for the director. I ask Haneke what he thinks of the critical mauling he received Stateside when the film was released there earlier this month the Village Voice headline was "One-Trick Phony".
I am not sure what this principle is. Is he disappointed that his message to America appears to have gone unheard?
He giggles one last time. I am sure they misunderstand the film's message, but then everybody can misunderstand the artist's message. That is the human tragedy.