In Caché Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche play Georges and Anne Laurent, French intellectuals with a comfortable bourgeois-bohemian lifestyle. He hosts a roundtable discussion about books on French public television, while she works part-time in publishing. They have a cute, floppy-haired 12-year-old son named Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky) and live on a quiet street in Paris in an elegant house with tasteful modular furniture and walls lined with thousands of books. Life seems perfect, in a very French way, for the Laurents. And then it doesn’t. Someone’s surveilling them, videotaping their comings and goings from the side street across from their house and leaving the cassettes in plastic shopping bags on the front stoop. When they begin finding the tapes, Georges and Anne initially respond in stereotypically gendered ways: To her the tapes are a threat to their safe, cozy life, but to him they’re a puzzle and a provocation. How dare someone disturb his complacency.
Some of the cassettes are wrapped in faux-childish drawings of violent scenes, and we see in flashbacks that the drawings connect to past events, but we’re not sure how. Though the camera appears to be placed right out on the street, only slightly above eye level, Georges walks right by it several times without seeming to notice it — did he put it there himself? Is he unconsciously terrorizing his own family? Anxiety seeps into every aspect of the Laurents’ lives, eroding their relationships and endangering both their security and success. A tape sent to Georges’ boss complicates the situation at work, where plans for his new show have been postponed. When Anne tells their friends about the stalker, Georges becomes angry with her and, when he begins to piece together the motive behind the tapes, he lies to her about what he finds. She turns to her friend Pierre for comfort, and Pierrot becomes furious with her, convinced she’s having an affair.
Caché was written and directed by Michael Haneke, an Austrian who has lately been working in France, making spare, cryptic, pessimistic films about humanity’s inherent cruelty. (For some reason perhaps known only to Haneke, they often feature threatened bourgeois couples named Georges and Anne — or, when he’s working in German, Georg and Anna. This is Binoche’s second time as one of his Annes, following 2001’s Code Unknown.) Haneke enjoys playing games with the audience, implicating us as voyeurs while reminding us of our passivity and powerlessness. (Who’s watching the Laurents? Well … we are. Are we the guilty party?) Both the surveillance tapes and the narrative scenes were shot in high-def digital video — so we often aren’t sure if what we’re seeing is a tape Georges and Anne are watching or part of the present “reality” — and, in both, Haneke’s camera lingers for very long, static takes, never letting us forget who’s in control. This manner of shooting combines with the film’s eerie quiet — there’s no score at all — to create a disturbing feeling of free-floating recrimination.
Haneke is both a moralist and a sadist but, in his Spartan way, he’s also a stylist. Working with cinematographer Christian Berger, who has shot several of his previous films, he creates visuals that are understated yet gorgeously crisp and steely — the compositions find grace in the most ordinary-seeming locations and even imply the film’s moral universe through their framing and use of light. Haneke’s minimalism is bracing, even, at times, enthralling, but it’s the nature of minimalism to engage the intellect, not the emotions. It’s hard not to admire Caché, but it’s almost impossible to love it. The narrative is deliberately elliptical, which works early on, but in the end it leaves too much unresolved. It builds to a scene of violence so shocking that for a full 30 seconds I forgot to breathe, but the film’s explanation for what transpires is only partial; it leaves at least as many questions as it answers. (It’s a metaphor for the French colonization of Algeria and France’s general inhospitality to foreigners and minorities, but I’ll reveal no more than that.) When George finally explains to Anne why they’re being stalked, the events he describes don’t seem terrible enough to merit the consequences, and they don’t explain everything we’ve seen in flashbacks. Is he still lying? Caché engages us just enough to make us long for resolution, then denies us the satisfaction. It’s really only half a film — we have to build the rest in our heads — but it lingers in the mind more than most. I’m tempted to see it again, just to find out if it makes more sense the second time around.
Jeremy C. Fox is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society. You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Caché / Jeremy C. Fox
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()