The complacent life of Georges (Daniel Autiel) and Anne (Juliette Binoche) is disrupted by the arrival of the anonymous videotapes, depicting lengthy, static views of their house, in Caché.
Surveillance nightmare manifest in Michael Hanekes Caché
BY STEVE ERICKSON
Michael Hanekes never come across a genre he didnt want to implodefamily melodrama in The Seventh Continent and The Piano Teacher, horror in Funny Games, science fiction in Time of the Wolf. With Caché, hes made a thriller that retains all the forms tension while offering little of its satisfactions and catharsis. Its mysteries start with surveillance tapes sent to TV host Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and spiral out from there, taking in his past and Frances troubled history with its former Arab colonies.
Post-film conversations about who sent the tapeswatch the final shot very carefullyare inevitable, but Haneke makes one do a lot of work for tenuous, ambiguous conclusions. Georges, who hosts a literary chat show called La Table Ronde, lives with his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche), an editor, and their teenage son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky.) Their complacency is disrupted by the arrival of the anonymous videotapes, depicting lengthy, static views of their house. Many of the tapes are accompanied by childlike drawings of bloody figures. The police refuse to do anything, since Georges family faces no physical threat. Eventually, Georges receives clues that lead him to a figure from his past, but this causes him to descend into mistrust and paranoia.
Haneke has a love/hate relationship with genre. He synthesizes the thriller with the art film brilliantly in Caché. If hes often critical of his chosen forms, hes clearly done his homework and can mimic them extremely well. As for television, where he toiled for 15 years, his suspicion verges on phobiain The Seventh Continent and Funny Games, its essentially a villain. Ironically, Georgesa man who makes his living being filmedis horribly frightened by surreptitious videotaping. However, the film pivots around control of the gaze. Georges fear is a product of the young looking critically at the middle-aged and Arabs looking back at Europeans. In Caché, its a given that filmmaking is an act of aggression.
Although Haneke, whos originally from Austria, now works mostly in France, theres still something stern and archetypically Germanic about his films. He has a great eye for set pieces condensing the maximum amount of dread into the minimum amount of space. The lighting and cinematography are precise, stylish, and as sterile as an Ikea showroom. His tendency to film long scenes in one takeFunny Games includes one ten-minute shotonly makes them tenser. Caché includes the most nerve-wracking elevator ride ever filmed, even though its characters only danger is mental.
The greatest achievement of Caché is turning an ordinary part of cinemas grammarthe establishing shotinto an image of horror. This begins with the very first scene, in which the unusual shot length and lack of camera movement are eventually revealed to be surveillance video. The anonymous taper favors similar shots of Georges house. Soon, one comes to suspect that every establishing shot, peaceful as it may be, is part of his planuntil context establishes that its not.
Hanekes mix of moralism and sadism can be off-putting. Funny Games castigates its audience for indulging violent fantasies that he, after all, thought up. The one really flawed scene in Caché depicts a young boy killing a chicken. Edited for maximum shock value, its a moment more befitting 70s exploitation schlock than the rest of the film. Oddly,
Haneke, whos often reticent about killing fictional people on-screenpreferring to suggest violence through sound designhas few qualms about genuine animal slaughter, which happens in three of his films. On the other hand, the other sadistic indulgence of Caché is far more justifiableone of the years most powerful and disturbing scenes, its sure to have the entire audience cringing in unison.
Before Caché, Code Unknown was Hanekes most overtly political film. Gentle compared to the rest of the work, but still deeply pessimistic, it seemed both anti-conservative and anti-liberal. The central metaphor of Caché can be taken many different ways. Some observers have seen it as a reflection on 9/11, although the film refers specifically to a 1961 massacre of Algerians by French police. News footage of Iraq, which Georges and Anne mostly ignore, plays as background noise as well. Georges generation may be doomed to live out a legacy of racism, guilt, and worse, but the film holds out the possibility that their children might have another destiny. Ultimately, Im not sure that it matters who sent Georges the tapes; their impact on him and his family is far more crucial.
If Caché is Hanekes masterpiece, thats largely because its ellipses offer something more than a passive-aggressive means of manipulating the audience. At long last, it suggests the possibility of escaping from the submerged doom central to his vision of middle-class European life. Amazingly, it manages to do so without forcing this interpretation on usdiluting the devastating 1-2-3 punch of the final scenes, in which Georges essentially sinks into hellor making vanquishing racism look easy.