Monday, January 23, 2006

Caché

I saw Michael Haneke’s Caché (“Hidden”) in Toronto, and then again this week. What seemed like a strong movie just got stronger, although it’s not my absolute favorite of his films (that would be Code Unknown [2000]). Caché’s been extensively written about and so I shan’t “review” the movie here. Instead, I thought I’d throw together a small grab-bag of ideas, mostly those of others which happened to resonate with me.

Basic plot: An educated middle-class couple start receiving surveillance videotapes which suggest that they are being watched. Georges (Daniel Auteuil) is a TV literary show host (do we even have such a genre in the U.S.?), and Anne (Juliette Binoche) is a book editor. This leads to the unlocking of repressed memories of Georges’ childhood when he may have lied about an Algerian boy living with his family, thus having the boy sent away. The family attempts to find out: who is sending the videotapes, and why? I’ve tried hard to include no spoilers in this post, although if a discussion sprouts in the comments, they may be impossible to avoid. A few points:

  • The movie is amazingly, intricately layered. It’s an art-thriller, a family drama, an excoriation of bourgeois hypocrisy and myopia, an allegory of the post-9/11 world, and a film about personal and national conscience.

  • It is a thriller that is a critique of thrillers: It avoids use of any of the techniques we associate with the genre. There are no fast or hand-held camera movements; instead, the camera observes quietly, motionlessly, almost icily. There is no music soundtrack to cue us into feeling scared or uneasy. There are no odd and flagrantly subjective camera angles to enhance suspense, and there is no “exciting” editing to whip us into a frenzy. Haneke scrupulously eschews these blatantly manipulative effects.

  • Robin Wood’s excellent article on the film in Artforum is alas not on-line. Here he is comparing and contrasting Haneke and Hitchcock:

    Haneke’s acute awareness of Hitchcock is beyond question. But what he has taken from Hitchcock amounts to little more than basic plot features, from which he embarks on journeys fundamentally different in aim and nature: The murder in Benny's Video (1992) recalls Psycho (similar placement—about a third of the way into the film—similar abruptness and shock, followed by a cleanup sequence); Funny Games (1997) relates obliquely to The Birds, which Hitchcock said was about complacency (Haneke’s young killers remain as inexplicable as the bird attacks and the elder is even credited with having supernatural powers); and the mother-daughter relationship in The Piano Teacher (2001) bears a strong resemblance to that in Marnie. Caché is clearly linked to Rear Window, with “watching” replaced by “being watched,” the story now told from the viewpoint of the spied-on, though the “crime” is of a very different nature and its perpetrator couldn't be arrested for it...But in all other respects Haneke can be seen as the anti-Hitchcock . Hitch’s frequently expressed aim of "putting the audience through it" was consistently linked to identification techniques. The spectator of his films is drawn, helpless, into the narrative by enforced and intimate identification with the key character (James Stewart in Vertigo, Janet Leigh in Psycho, Tippi Hedren in The Birds); we see everything from a single viewpoint. Haneke, in direct contrast, forbids identification altogether; we look at, not with, the characters.

  • Here’s a terrific Cinemarati discussion of the film. Included is this incisive observation by Acquarello:

    ...Haneke operates as a scientist, not as a humanist (although one is not mutually exclusive of the other)...Another one in this filmmaking vein is Shohei Imamura; they both have a very clinical view of society as an organism, and their approach is a variation of scientific method: introduce a catalyst -> observe the organism’s behavior to the catalyst -> record results.

  • Paul Arthur in Film Comment:

    According to Haneke, his films are intended as “polemical statements against the [unthinking] American cinema in its disempowerment of the spectator.” In place of what he sees as simplistic explanations, a “clarifying distance” will transform the viewer from “simple consumer” to active evaluator: “The more radically answers are denied to him, the more likely he is to find his own.” In truth, this prescription for battling psychic evils associated with the Hollywood system—slow the pacing, deny subjective identification, refuse to tie up loose ends—has had numerous proponents; at times Haneke sounds like an anti–humanist version of André Bazin, champion of long-take perceptual ambiguity as practiced by Renoir, Welles, Bresson, et al.

  • A.O. Scott wrote: “The initial shot of the movie is answered by the last, which demands close attention and contains the intriguing suggestion that the real story has been hidden all along - that it has been driven not by the noisy public conflict between Arabs and Frenchmen, but rather by the quiet, perpetual war between fathers and sons.” Soon after my first viewing, I thought that the question of who was sending the videotapes was a MacGuffin, a pretext, and also meant as a send-up of thriller formulas which use pat surprise endings for effect. I was wrong: Though I do think Haneke is critiquing thriller formulas, I think the question (and answer) is important.

52 Comments:

Blogger girish said...

The new issue of Cineaste that I mentioned a couple of weeks back also has a nice two-page interview with Haneke, in which he is (predictably) intelligent and (unpredictably) jovial.

January 23, 2006 9:07 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Another thing I admire about the film is how good it is in constructing both the big picture (political/historical allegory and conscience-film) but also the intimate picture (psychological astuteness of its personal drama, with complex characters).

January 23, 2006 9:13 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Here's a Haneke interview thanks to Harry.

Watching Caché has made me eager about revisiting (and blogging about) Code Unknown.

January 23, 2006 9:18 AM  
Anonymous dvd said...

What did you think of Time Of The Wolf, Girish? That's my favorite of his - and indeed, I think one of the best of the decade thus far.

January 23, 2006 9:34 AM  
Anonymous rakesh said...

I haven't checked out the movie yet. Don't think I'll in the near future 'coz it takes a long time for foreign language movie dvd's(pirated,ofcourse) to get here.

God! I desperately wanna watch this movie (Michael Haneke+ Juliette Binoche(love her)..I am excited)

January 23, 2006 9:43 AM  
Blogger girish said...

David, I liked Time Of The Wolf a lot. Oddly, it might have the most optimistic ending of any of his films. (Though it's a bit open to interpretation, I guess.)
I've seen all his features except one (71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance, which has been devilishly hard to catch). Another one I absolutely love is his first, The Seventh Continent--a great director springs full-born.

January 23, 2006 10:13 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh and David--I've got to catch The New World this week. The range of responses to that film have been staggeringly polarized. Can't remember the last cinephile-friendly director/film to do that in such an extreme fashion.
I'm also tempted to revisit The Thin Red Line this week and also pick up the Michel Chion BFI Classics book on it that's at my local bookstore.

January 23, 2006 10:18 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Nitpicking Paul Arthur's comment: Yes, I think of Renoir and Welles as being "long-take" filmmakers but I'm not so sure about Bresson, who I think cuts fairly rapidly in comparison. It's like the misconception about Ozu being a long-take director; his shot lengths are actually fairly small.

January 23, 2006 10:24 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

The only time(s) I regret having moved from the New York tri-state area to Pennsylvania farmlands is when a new Haneke, Rivette or Chabrol film comes out. (The regret evaporates once I remember that my living expenses here are a quarter of what they were in proximity of the Big Apple.)

I have no clue as to what's playing at the local multiplex (thirty miles from my door), but I'm almost certain that it's not Caché. Suffice it to say, I'll buy it sight unseen once the DVD's available.

I haven't read your post, just as I've avoided every other review or comment on the picture. I'd hate to go into it knowing anything.

Haneke is one of the very, very few "new" directors who continues to excite me. I think Code: Unknown is among the two or three finest films of its decade. And seeing Hour of the Wolf again last week (as an aid in preparing my review of The End of August at the Hotel Ozone) introduced qualities which escaped me in the first viewing.

January 23, 2006 11:04 AM  
Blogger girish said...

That's good, Flickhead.
We can read each other's posts when you watch and write about it.

January 23, 2006 11:10 AM  
Blogger Darren said...

Perhaps Code Unknown would be a good follow-up to the Showgirls blog-a-thon? I picked up a copy of it recently and have been looking forward to revisiting it.

January 23, 2006 11:30 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Nice idea, Darren.

January 23, 2006 11:34 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Darren: I'm game.

January 23, 2006 11:36 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren and Flickhead: how about a little over two weeks from today, Wednesday February 8? Might that work, or is that too tight?
Others wanna join in?

January 23, 2006 11:41 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Okay, a revised date: three weeks from today, Monday Feb 13. (To give ourselves some more time.)
Yay, nay?

January 23, 2006 11:48 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Monday the 13th sounds good!

January 23, 2006 11:57 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

I'd be up for a second blog party.

January 23, 2006 3:07 PM  
Anonymous dvd said...

That sounds awesome. That's one of his I actually haven't seen yet (along with Cache, which I can't wait to see on Friday).

About the qualities you saw at the end of Time Of The Wolf, Girish - I share your sentiments exactly. Here's the last line of my review of the film: "This is the work of someone who believes that there is an essential goodenss to people, and despite all the despair he evokes in these landscapes of death and flames, he shows us at the end a vision of simple, almost heartbreaking optimism and warmth."

January 23, 2006 3:14 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Great, David and Zach. That makes five.
And we're off...

January 23, 2006 3:16 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Think I'll revisit Time Of The Wolf in prep for Code Unknown.
I'll tell you one Haneke film that I'm not going to watch again: Funny Games.
Not all good movies are meant to be watched more than once.
Or put another way, it has accomplished its purpose.

January 23, 2006 3:26 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Another one I'm not going to be able to partake in, this time due to lack of access. Dandy.

January 23, 2006 5:39 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey Matt--We'll have to make sure that the next time we do this, the esoteric rabbit will be able to play too! (Promise.)

January 23, 2006 7:10 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Heh heh. Sometimes I must come across as such a bitter little child.

;)

January 23, 2006 8:33 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Matt--You certainly don't think and write about movies like a child... :-)

January 23, 2006 8:44 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Your first bullet point is a great digest. Thanks for this collection of insights on the reflexion suggested by this mysterious film. So you're not doing the comparative analysis between Caché and A History of Violence?

If Haneke is probably influenced by Hitchcock's cinema (maybe more for the mise-en-scene than the plots actually), these dubious pairing up of films look far-fetched... I don't know. We could compare just about any two films with such superficial reasoning.

I agree with you about Bresson too.
Your second bullet-point is a better stylistic distinction than this formal long-take/regular-take dichotomy.

Haneke seems to be quite jovial indeed. He was laughing at the end of each sentence in this interview with Michel Ciment. Most impressively is his confidence in what he does and how it is perceived, interpretated by his public and the critics. He knows what he's doing and doesn't expect/need to collect laurels and flattery when he meets the media (unlike most actors, directors).

It's good to see that this blog-o-thon might become a tradition. Code Inconnu didn't impress my mind enough to be able to talk about it, and I would be on the dissenting side for this one (although I admit I need to revisit it before resting on a definite opinion), my personal favorite is Funny Games.

January 23, 2006 8:57 PM  
Anonymous Aaron Hillis said...

Doh! Didn't see this earlier. And I just posted a lengthy comment to the Cinetrix's post on Cache (my favorite film of 2005) over here.

Too bad about Code Unknown for me, that falls on a quiz day. Gulp!

January 23, 2006 9:10 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Harry.
Oh by the way, you're the first Haneke-lover I've encountered who doesn't admire Code Inconnu. :-)
Your revisiting it might perhaps change your take, but even if it doesn't, I'm sure your dissent will be interesting to read.
Thanks for the Offscreen link; I always forget to check their site. I should add it to my blogroll.

Aaron--Great comments at Trix's. Thanks for the link.
Just an idea: Perhaps you could do the quiz on Tuesday or Wednesday instead, and I'd be glad to do my bit by linking to the quiz from my site that week. No pressure: just wanted to read your words on Code Unknown, is all.
Either way is fine, we'll still love ya. :-)

January 23, 2006 10:37 PM  
Anonymous Aaron Hillis said...

I appreciate the offer. Time permitting, I'll do just that. Oh, and since Haneke is still the topic du jour here, let me just say that the Cache convo continues over at 'Trixworld. Jump on in, the water's freezing.

January 23, 2006 10:51 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

First band obsession was also Guns 'N Roses. It took me awhile to decide that the sexism, racism, homophobia, and general misanthropy weren't just clever rhymes or putting on a good show, that that was probably how the band really was; and if they ever met me they'd hate me too. What can I say, that rage really spoke to me. After that it was Led Zeppelin, which was not much better in terms of lyrics (I still have this tendency to gloss over them, to have them committed to memory through sheer repetition without them ever stopping in at that part of the brain that registers meaning).

January 24, 2006 1:17 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

-10 PN ref prob

By "them" I mean "lyrics," but you're a clever lad so you knew that. ^_^ Thanks for not taking points off for the comma splice, the overlong sentences, or the parenthetical which probably deserves a sentence of its own.

January 24, 2006 1:21 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

The closest I've seen that is similar to the French TV shows about literature have been on C-Span and, superficially, the A & E series "Breakfast with the Arts".
Cache hasn't come to Miami Beach yet.

January 24, 2006 8:11 AM  
Blogger girish said...

-"10 PN ref prob". ??
Tuwa's been writing computer programs late at night again. :-)

January 24, 2006 8:12 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Peter, Somehow the idea of having a literary talk show seems so French.

January 24, 2006 8:15 AM  
Blogger girish said...

If Harry is reading this: (and anyone else)
Peter and I were talking about this at his site:
Doesn't l'amour fou require for both people to be "in love" (and fou)? Meaning, it can't be unrequited love...
e.g. Truffaut's Adele H. wouldn't be an example of l'amour fou, but Jules et Jim would?
Just wondering.

January 24, 2006 8:59 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

That's ten points off for a pronoun reference problem, actually. ... I haven't done any serious attempts at programming since 1999 (and before that, 1986), though I'm tinkering with JavaScript a bit this semester.

Pierrot is a fou, for whatever that's worth. (ha'penny?)

January 24, 2006 10:42 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

I can't say why I disliked Code Inconnu... it looked so disordered, underarchieved, loose to me after having fallen in love with the clinically constructed Funny Games. Although I want to rewatch it, and to see Hour of the Wolf, Piano teacher, The 7th Continent, and 71 fragments.

Where is it you are discussing "l'amour fou"? I don't know where it comes from... there is an eponymous André Breton novel though. I guess this phrase does imply mutual (passionate) love. But we could say "amoureux fou" speaking of the man who feel an unrequited love.

January 24, 2006 12:33 PM  
Blogger Shasta said...

great post. i look forward to seeing it.

January 24, 2006 4:01 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Harry's right about Breton's context of "l'amour fou"; it implies a reciprocity of the madness, a dual reflection that reinforces the aberration within themselves through the mental/emotional synchrony of each other.

January 24, 2006 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I stand corrected if I misunderstood "l'amour fou" (this was in reference to my piece on Betty Blue). If not "l'amour fou", what term fits those films, usually French, like Adele H., or He Loves Me ... He Loves Me Not depicting non-recipricol relationships?

January 24, 2006 7:47 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for clarifying, folks.
Good question, Peter.

January 24, 2006 8:24 PM  
Blogger Eric Henderson said...

A Haneke party? The Code... the Code... the Code is on fire!

January 25, 2006 4:32 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

What about the Rivette film L'Amour Fou? (I didn't see it)

Well in french we don't have a word for "unrequited" (I like the english word) that I know of, we use a periphrase "amour non partagé" (literaly: "non shared love"), or "non réciproque" (unreciprocated). "Amour impossible" maybe, but that often means the hinderance between lovers is external, despite their mutual love.

He loves me, loves me not is a pathologic love (erotomania).

Sorry I can't be of more help.

January 25, 2006 7:05 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Eric, I'm hoping that means "yes". In which case the Code *will* be on fire!
Harry, thank you. You've already been of great help.
Also, Bunuel refers to l'amour fou a few times in his memoir, My Last Sigh. (As you would expect this original surrealist to.)

January 25, 2006 9:11 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

I have to read Buñuel's book someday.
L'âge d'or is a lyrical depiction of amour fou isn't it?
Like acquarello says "fou" means crazy in a positive way, while Loves me loves me not is mad in a negative way.

The literature talk show is rather intellectual (not very popular) but broadcasted on national TV (late night though), so it a famous token of french culture. There used to be one long-runing show with Bernard Pivot (an erudit book bulimic) called "Bouillon de Culture", and after his retirement, a few new shows came up to replace it. What Haneke parodizes in his film is very much in line with reality. ;)

p.s. what was it that annoyed you with the chopping of a chicken Girish? The fact an animal was killed for a film, or was it the graphic way the chicken runs with its head off?

January 25, 2006 9:37 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

trivia: the guest on the literature show of Georges is Mazarine Pingeot, the secret illegitimate daughter of former president François Mitterand who became a famous writer and journalist when her existence was revealed after her father's death.

Girish, if your blog-o-thon is going to become a recurrant event, it would be helpful to schedule the next films in advance (1 month at least) to give the opportunity to (re)watch it in time (for people like me who has not the liberty to rent a DVD on short notice). I'd love to participate.

January 25, 2006 9:49 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I know, rakesh. I was 12 when Appetite for Destruction was released, 14 when Lies was released (with the song you excerpted above). Like I said, it took me awhile to realize it wasn't an act. ^_^

January 25, 2006 9:57 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Rakesh, Sorry but I've taken the liberty of deleting the Guns N' Roses lyric you posted. Simple: I don't want it on my site.
Yes, we all know how offensive they can sometimes be.

January 25, 2006 10:18 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Harry, we had a three week advance notice for this one. I'm assuming it be would be enough time for you to find the Code Unknown DVD in Paris, right? :-)

January 25, 2006 10:32 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Sorry, I meant, DVD on short notice was not an option for me. I'm dependent on whatever is available in theatres (I check at it's not currently showing, Showgirls wasn't either) so with some time it increases the chances to see it come up on one screen, as non-current movies come and go pretty rapidly here. (Maybe Code Unknown is going to show up in the next 3 weeks)

But you don't have to change the organisation for me. I'll play when the title is familiar ;)

January 25, 2006 10:47 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Count me in on the Code Unknown blog-a-thon!

January 25, 2006 2:11 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Doug--Awesome!

January 25, 2006 4:28 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Interesting stuff on Cache, girish. Along with Imamura (but does Haneke display the same appetite for the erotic as Imamura?) I'd throw in Kurosawa Kyoshi. Both like to use the static long shot, and both have an unblinking view of violence. Kyoshi, tho, is not averse to using digital effects, while far as I know, Haneke sticks to on-camera effects.

March 30, 2006 6:47 AM  

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