Hiding it all away.

*Reviews of the recent cinema! Because you requested it! And by ‘you,’ I actually mean Tam. But hey, so long as Tam is reading this, I can’t be entirely wrong! Ha ha!


"I like the multiplicity of books, because each book is different in the mind of each reader. It's the same with this film - if 300 people are in a cinema watching it, they will all see a different film, so in a way there are thousands of different versions of [Caché]. The point being that, despite what TV shows us, and what the news stories tell us, there is never just one truth, there is only personal truth.”

- Writer/director Michael Haneke, as quoted on the Internet Movie Database

The first I’d heard of Michael Haneke, the German-born creator of this 2005 film (French-language, though it’s actually a French-Austrian-German-Italian co-production), he was big among horror and exploitation fans. This was subsequent to the release of his 1997 feature, Funny Games, which I’ve unfortunately never gotten around to seeing. I do recall the hype surrounding it - a quickly infamous psychos-invade-the-home epic in which (from what I’ve heard) hardly a drop of blood is actually spilt, it was nonetheless hailed for its psychological brutality and eminently Hitchcockian preoccupation with the very act of watching films, inviting the audience right in to savor the viciousness of vicarious immorality. Or so it’s said; it might just be crap.

Actually, this is the first of Haneke’s films I’ve viewed, his newest and most acclaimed release; it captured several awards at Cannes 2005, including Best Director, and that no doubt helped fuel a wide enough US theatrical run that it eventually trickled into my neck of the woods about two months prior to its R1 dvd release (that’ll be June 27). It’s been called by some a ‘thriller,’ though that’s not very accurate - there is some inevitable suspense raised by the simple fact that the plot involves a mystery, though Haneke’s cinematic technique often works overtime to sap any overt excitement from the proceedings. There are plenty of long, long takes, lots of unmoving shots, no pulse-quickening uses of sound, no musical score whatsoever, extended, mid-tempo conversations between characters about their lives and feelings, virtually nothing in the way of climactic build, and a pronounced absence of clarity as to the mechanics of the mystery itself. It’s a slow film. A lulling one. This does work to the great benefit of a certain scene about ¾ of the way through, the film’s one and only lunge into visceral shock, and it had half the audience audibly gasping. You’ll know it when you see it.

But really, Caché is a stridently intellectual food-for-thought film that just so happens to employ certain thriller mechanisms to suit its purposes. And taken in that way, it’s a pretty rich success - simultaneously a type of parable for race relations in France and a rumination on the cinema’s capacity for truth-telling, it’s the type of movie that derives the lion’s share of its impact from thinking about it after the credits have rolled. I can understand the Cannes jury’s enthusiasm for Haneke’s directorial technique, as it’s furiously canny (yet remarkably quiet) in its use of visual triggers and recurring shots, which are generally employed to obfuscate whatever narrative point-of-view the film is employing at any given moment.

Indeed, this is Caché’s great success, on the level of ‘pure’ cinema. It’s been said that the act of watching movies has altered the ways filmgoers dream - the cuts and angles and juxtapositions that early film pioneers developed as a unique storytelling grammar has awarded them with a special brand of immortality, as the very subconscious of the public is now keyed to a deep understanding of what filmic visual techniques ‘mean’ in a narrative sense. I am not much of a lucid dreamer, but I know I sometimes dream through the eye of an omniscient narrator, viewing myself as one in a theater would view me from the outside. Haneke understands this, and he directly connects film and personal points of view and dreaming over the course of his film.

The opening titles appear over an unmoving view of the front of a home. Absolutely nothing happens as the credits proceed, save for a few people walking by, and the nothingness continues after the credits have vanished. But soon it becomes clear that we’re not seeing ‘reality’ - we’re watching a videotape along with successful bourgeois couple Georges and Anne, a recording made of the front of their very own home. Somebody has left this tape on their doorstep, and they can’t figure out why. Additional tapes quickly appear, similar in content, and some of them accompanied by lurid drawings - a human with blood erupting from its mouth, a chicken with its neck cut - drafted in a childish style. Soon, the couple’s young son is receiving similar artwork on a postcard at school, and Georges gets identical mailings at his workplace, where he hosts and edits a literary chat show. In one scene, we see him ordering a conversation cut up to remove challenging “theoretical” debate - this is important to understanding the film’s themes and characters, as Georges has a few things to hide, and has a habit of telling lies to make life easier. So does his wife. Maybe his son does as well. Actually, Haneke leads us to think that every character in the film is less than trustworthy, with only those long stretches of videotape offering a semblance of objectivity. But can video ever really be trusted, when humans must create it?

Eventually, the tapes begin to change, bearing footage of Georges’ family estate, among other sights. Haneke films these sequences identically, with an unmoving camera (though occasionally placed in moving vehicles) offering slightly off-kilter angles. Eventually, dialogue clues us in to the fact that we’re watching another recording. Until it no longer does. As the film proceeds, Haneke begins repeating shots seen in the videotapes, but to different ends, playing nicely off of the audience’s expectations. Some of these scenes are part of the ‘action’ proper. Some of these scenes are offered without comment. We often glimpse background characters filming various activities. Sometimes Haneke shoots scenes in a style simply reminiscent of the videotapes, forcing the viewer to wonder if the characters are secretly being recorded. Obviously they are - they're characters in a film after all - and Haneke ultimately links dreams to film in their creation of a personal 'reality,' and maybe one that contains details more omnious than one would expect.

As far as the story goes, Georges' and Anne's life becomes awfully unstable, and their marriage strained. The intrusion of another party's personal 'reality' upsets their own, as it exposes their failures and secrets. The title of the film means 'Hidden,' and everything from individual sins to cameras are hidden in this movie. Everyone hides something. Society hides more - I won't spoil everything for you, but let's just say that another theme of the film - this one delivered via dialogue and proper character interation - is that of complacency in a racist system,
unconsciously (maybe even innocently) utilizing prejudices to your advantage and then denying that any wrong was done. But eventually the narrative of the oppressed will come to light, and the subjectivity of one will 'crash' into the subjectivity of another, to evoke a certain film that won a whole bunch of awards recently.

So what can be done? Haneke seems to suggest that communication is what's really needed. Perhaps the communication of art, but really just person-to-person understanding. As one might expect from a film so loaded with mistruths and cloaked motives, there's no objective resolution to the mystery, though there's plenty of room for individual interpretation, especially given the highly ambiguous final shot. But expecting a solution to be handed down is an element of the thriller, and that's not what Caché strives to be. It's only what it might be mistaken for, which I'm sure delights Haneke. It's more a film to be admired and pondered than enjoyed, but who says all art need be enjoyable? Not Haneke, maybe still playing those Funny Games, forcing his audience to consider themselves considering him.