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Film
2/06
 
Destructing Cinema's Lens: Michael Haneke's 'Caché'

By Jeremy Mathews
 
Caché
 
(out of four)
 
Sony Picture Classics
 
Written and Directed
by Michael Haneke
 
Starring Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Bénichou, Annie Girardot, Bernard Le Coq, Walid Afkir, Lester Makedonsky, Daniel Duval, Nathalie Richard, Denis Podalydès and Aïssa Maïga
 
Rated R
 

Imagine all your greatest regrets and guilty memories coming back to haunt you in the most unsettling way possible. With matter-of-fact simplicity, Michael Haneke's "Caché" distorts the cinematic lens in a way that's both disorienting and eloquently simple. To watch the film is to experience a faint but increasing pain and paranoia. To consider its implications afterward is to let these feelings follow you and grow as they circularly suggest and dismiss new ideas.

Haneke, an Austrian writer/director who has made his last several films in France, is known for confronting his audience with violence in films like "Funny Games," but his recent works have been simmering character studies like "The Piano Teacher." "Caché" (which translates to "Hidden") contains one very unexpected, disturbing moment—perhaps the most shocking scene in cinema this decade—but mostly moves slowly, letting its feelings of guilt and anger gradually build until they reach their conclusion.

Daniel Auteuil stars as Georges, the host of a literary discussion show on public television whose family starts receiving bizarre, unmarked tapes of their lives. His wife, Anne (Juliette Binoche), and son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky), have no idea who might be behind them, or how the perpetrator managed to conceal the camera so well.

The first tapes are bizarrely mundane, but as more arrive, they include clues that suggest a deep knowledge of Georges's past. Georges is forced to consider questions about how responsible people are for past actions, in terms of both personal childhood memories and large-scale politics. Haneke mirrors Georges's childhood efforts to, as he puts it, keep what is his with a tragic event involving France's treatment of Algeria. The personal story becomes a metaphor for the country's collective unresolved guilt.

Auteuil gives one of the best performances of his career as Georges. His charming facade slowly crumbles as the tapes and the past they recall induce stress and a desperate need for resolution. Georges could easily be an unlikable jerk, but Auteuil makes us understand and sympathize with his predicament, despite his foolish and/or pig-headed decisions.

Binoche is equally skilled in her portrayal of a character who is often left out of the loop and has to try to catch up with what is going on. She begins to see the hidden elements of her husband's personality and her understanding demeanor gives way to anger.

Haneke makes a few choices in his visual scheme that turn the film and the viewer in on themselves. The material on the videotapes isn't presented in the lower-resolution quality that is traditional when representing video; it looks exactly like any other shot in the film. We don't even know that the opening shot of the outside of the family's house is a video until the characters break into the story and rewind. Haneke uses this switch tactic later in the film as well. In the opening scene, Georges comments that the image is too clear to be shot from a window. But later, a shot of Georges walking into a convenience store reveals itself, as the camera pans, to have been imperceptibly shot through a window. Haneke is showing us that the story exists within a series of layers, and there's no way of knowing how many we're looking through.

GIven the wide angles and long takes, it slowly becomes clear that almost any scene could be a recording. One scene in particular, between Anne and a family friend, may have been witnessed by Anne and Georges's son, But the film hints about these matters without being conclusive.

Many believe that an event "hidden" in the wide closing shot of the film unlocks the mystery of the tapes, but it seems more a message of hope for the future—the new generation overcoming the sins of the old—than an explanation.

Explaining the origin of the tapes isn't really possible. They certainly exist in the environment of the film, and not just in one character's mind, so there's no double-cross twist. Our viewing habits create the temptation to treat the film as a puzzle that answers all of its questions if you pay enough attention, but the effort to explain the tapes' existence yields no definitive answers. The film takes place in a mindset rather than the quantifiable world.

"Caché" doesn't provide the typical closure expected from the mystery genre; it actively avoids it. It's an exploration of the psyche that poses more questions every time it gives what looks like an answer. We may wake from the nightmare, but still it lingers, and we wonder if the characters will ever wake themselves.

jeremy [at] saltshakermagazine.com

 

 
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