Caché. 2005. Directed & Written by Michael Haneke.
Starring Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Annie Girardot, Maurice Bénichou, Bernard Le Coq, Walid Afkir, Lester Makedonsky, Daniel Duval, Nathalie Richard, Denis Podalydès, & Aïssa Maïga. Les Films du Losange/Wega Film/Bavaria Film/BIM Distribuzione.
Rated 14A. 117 minutes.
There is no other director like auteur Michael Haneke. His films, admittedly on his part deliberately, are resistant to giving us answers. Haneke has famously stated films aren’t meant to provide those answers, any answers, merely to be the questions. And when you consider his body of work as a whole, even in the movies where the plots are more intricate than others, all of it is impressively evasive. Not in a bad sense. I don’t walk away from a Haneke picture feeling cheated or falling off my enjoyment for his style. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. I want to go back, sit down, and take in another viewing. I want to get to the bottom of what he’s trying to do, I want to figure him out.
When first I saw Caché, I wondered if maybe Haneke had seen David Lynch’s Lost Highway. But the premise of having videotapes anonymously sent to a house, showing only the outside of said house, goes somewhere completely different. This act sets off a series of events which simultaneously take the form of a mysterious thriller, and also form a labyrinthine, Hanekian tale touching on everything from the role of an audience in experiencing a film to white colonial guilt. To a certain point, I’m still not sure about what Haneke’s saying, or hoping to say, or asking. Or who knows. I have watched and re-watched this movie more than ANY other film out of the 4,200+ I’ve seen to date. I own a copy that’s been paused and rewound so many times that soon it may just evaporate into thin air or fry itself into a DVD doughnut.
Bottom line is, that if the trailer had you hoping Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche were starring together in a twisty little dramatic thriller, you’re sort of right. You’re also totally wrong.
Georges and Anne Laurent (Daniel Auteuil/Juliette Binoche) begin receiving videotapes on their doorstep, wrapped in a plastic bag, usually accompanied by a strange, crude drawing involving stick figures spitting out blood. Strangely, the tapes only show their house, even them leaving, coming. Yet they can’t figure out where the camera is taping from, nor can they determine who may be sending the tapes.
Once the drawings get stranger and the tapes change slowly, Georges finds himself drawn into the mystery, further, deeper. Eventually, it leads him back to a boy, now grown like himself, that he knew from childhood – an Argentinian man named Majid (Maurice Bénichou).
When the two men meet it changes Georges life completely. Not in the least for the better.
The film opens and closes on a moment of voyeurism. Long, uninterrupted takes make us a voyeur into the world of Haneke’s picture. Much like the voyeur behind those tapes stares into the life of Georges and his family. Above all else this sets up the viewer’s role in the story because the story is more than plot fodder for a film. Behind the characters and events of Caché lie intriguing bits of social issues, the concern about colonialism in relation to the 1961 massacre in Paris (re: FLN Algerians). It isn’t so hard to figure that out. But Haneke deflects, deflects, deflects. He passes us off onto the mystery of the tapes, so that we’re concerned with working out some thrilling aspect of the plot. And yes, the tapes are part of everything. Just not the most intricate, important part.
What matters most is the relationship between Georges and Majid. Only four years before this film did the city of Paris fully acknowledge the atrocities of the massacre forty years prior, and even then it’s only a commemorative plaque; even the highest of the high never took actually responsibility, so to say it’s an admission is generous. The childhood experiences of a young Georges and the little Algerian Majid who was nearly adopted by the former’s family frame a reference, a parallel to the Paris massacre. This film serves as an analogy – the past cannot stay hidden. Events from our past, our history will not, like Georges, crawl away under the covers, the only place they can be naked, and stay uncovered. And once everything comes out of the past and haunts Georges in the present, Haneke’s analogy is perfectly clear. An act by Majid can be seen as analogous to how many people feel about the Parisian response to the ’61 massacre – it may just take an outright brutal moment of clarity for any true, genuine response to those events. The most important piece to the relationship between Georges and Majid is that Georges, his actions, the guilt he feels for its repercussions, comes as a direct representation of white colonial guilt. Furthermore, when Georges talks with his wife about his past, he ends up saying: “What should I call it? A tragedy? Maybe it was a tragedy, I don‘t know. I don‘t feel responsible for it. Why should I?” If that isn’t a perfectly written line in regards to ideas about Parisian guilt over the Algerian deaths, then I don’t know what else is.
Also a note: have you noticed any of the interactions Georges has with anybody who’s non-white are always negative, filled with threats, confrontational? Could be that ugly white guilt rearing its head in aggressive ways after so much repression.
Back to the media theories. The cameras, the tapes, all the media and recording devices in this film almost serve as a representation of how the media treated the Paris massacre. Many American and British media sources stood by and watched, effectively making the Paris government out as not totally compliant in what had happened, trying to lessen the blow on their allies. If we consider this, Haneke’s inclusion of the cameras and his obsession with the act of voyeurism, it parallels the various media during ’61, and afterwards, who stood by, recording, letting the tapes run, but ultimately doing nothing except creating a documentation of events without meaning.
The performance by Daniel Auteuil is phenomenal and understated. He does everything at the right time, in the right manner. His acting is stellar most of the time, anyways. But everything from the more heated moments to the subtle scenes come off perfectly here. Auteuil brings out the repressed guilt and buried emotions of his Georges. There are a couple times he weeps by himself; most of the time I don’t get drawn into actors crying, unless it is really good. Here, his cries are unbelievably filled with impact – specifically, in one scene he tries to get a baguette and some butter, then breaks down before he can manage to even tear the bread. This might not have the same impact in another film, nor in the hands of another actor, but Auteuil makes this a heavy moment, and you feel for him. In fact, despite some of his faults the Georges character is highly sympathetic, though, he also feels stubborn, closed off, filled with the burden of repression and responsibility; all of which Auteuil presents in fine fashion.
Haneke’s writing gives life to the characters, yet its best quality is how we’re drawn into several different directions, all culminating in a film full of symbols and themes and analogy. It isn’t easy to write such intricate stuff and, on the outside, have it look like a typical mystery-thriller. Haneke weaves a tale of social issues through the eye of thriller mechanisms and creates a haunting piece of cinema that is not easy to forget. On top of that, the cinematography is spectacular. It is rich and beautiful to look at, even while plumbing the depths of some eerie subject matter. In general, Haneke has a solid eye as director for the composition of shots. A lot of times there are things in frame you may not realize are important or hold significance in any way. Others, the frame holds only the basics. In that way, Haneke crafts a measure of suspense and tension that’s able to cling to us, refusing to let go. Like the red herring or MacGuffin so well-executed by Alfred Hitchcock, the unease Haneke creates has a similar effect, and we’re always left pondering what exactly are his intentions.
Absolutely a 5-star bit of work. That finale wide shot is telling, as it holds pieces to the Algerian analogy, or maybe it has other significance that people can tell. Either way, the effects of Haneke are always the same, somehow always different, too. He leaves me filled with wonder, even in the darkest of moments. And he always, always keeps me questioning the content of a film’s frame, start to finish. His best qualities are not as a director, nor as a writer, but as a man asking questions about life, humanity, media, history, and everything in between.