The latest from Michael Haneke (“Hour of the Wolf”), this French film tells the story of Georges (Daniel Auteuil), a rather disingenuous host of a TV talk show for intellectuals (its highly-lit set is lined with shelves of prop “books”, an image whose obvious artifice is given its obverse by the wall of books rising over his family’s dinner table). He lives with his wife (Juliette Binoche, ah!) and son in a Paris flat; the boy is increasingly bitter and troubled, much to the bafflement of concerned parent Binoche.
The couple discovers they are under surveillance when videotapes of the exterior of their building began turning up in their mail, accompanied by childlike drawings of stick figures with scarlet geysers spurting from their necks. Disconcerting, to say the least. Georges suspects the perpetrator to be a man whom he hasn’t seen since they were children together when the other boy’s family, Algerian refugees, lived on Georges’ parents’ country estate. Back then Georges got the Algerian boy booted from the estate for supposedly threatening Georges with an axe. All these years later, the Algerian, like Georges, has a son. Could the younger generation have had a hand in the tapes? The film seems to ask us to contemplate an anger and angst of youth that is not the garden variety sort, but rather a manifestation of something approaching actual evil.
Haneke’s a Brechtian and thus steeps his work in distancing mechanisms to stop us getting swept away emotionally, to engage our intellects. He wants us to see the familiar in a new light, to the point that he often shoots his people with their backs to us. Not a note of music graces the soundtrack, and thus there’s no cue as to what you’re meant to feel. This approach heightens the role of sound in defining place and tracking the narrative: in one shot the action moves off frame and it’s by listening that we follow the story. Further, Haneke holds his shots for so long that you begin to investigate the image on your own, looking where you will rather than where you’ve been forced by manipulative montage. His use of theory contributes in practice to an unsettling, disturbing experience. We’re not used to ambiguity in film, and it’s disorienting.
At times we’re unsure whether we’re seeing an image from the stalker’s camera or our director’s until “rewind” squiggles suddenly disrupt the screen. There’s no graininess to cue us. In one late scene the angle of the director’s camera is identical to that we know to have been used earlier by the stalker. Haneke thus imparts freshness to the rather familiar metaphor of the film audience as voyeurs by implying that the metaphor could just as easily apply to himself.
“Cache” satisfied my jones for some challenging fare. It’s the most uncompromising film I’ve seen in some time. Word of warning: there’s a startlingly jarring shot that elicited the loudest gasp I’ve ever heard in a movie theatre not showing a “Friday the 13th” picture.
“I don’t get it,” I heard one audience member exclaim as the credits rolled. “You’re not supposed to get it,” a voice replied. I had to laugh as a chap announced as he filed out, “I get it, but I’m not telling anybody.”
- Feb 26, 2006