Jean, a farm lad, wants to escape his silent father; he runs to Paris to his older brother, Georges, who's away covering the war in Kosovo. Angry, he throws a bag of half-eaten pastry into ... See full summary »
A European family who plan on escaping to Australia, seem caught up in their daily routine, only troubled by minor incidents. However, behind their apparent calm and repetitive existence, they are actually planning something sinister.
A 14-year-old video enthusiast is so caught up in film fantasy that he can no longer relate to the real world, to such an extent that he commits murder and records an on-camera confession for his parents.
Georges and Anne are an octogenarian couple. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, also a musician, lives in Britain with her family. One day, Anne has a stroke, and the couple's bond of love is severely tested.
Jean, a farm lad, wants to escape his silent father; he runs to Paris to his older brother, Georges, who's away covering the war in Kosovo. Angry, he throws a bag of half-eaten pastry into a beggar's lap. Amadou, a young Franco-African, berates him. The police arrive, arrest Amadou and deport the beggar. Georges's girlfriend Anne is upset; it colors her relationship with Georges when he returns from the war. Separate lives intersect for the one moment, around the pastry bag, and all are altered. We follow each as repercussions of the incident play out. Deaf children bookend the film pantomiming words, feelings, and situations: what they are expressing? Written by
Probably one of the more accessible of Haneke's dour, psychological studies
Code Unknown; Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys (2000) is another of director Michael Haneke's deeply austere and emotionally rigid intellectual probes into the human condition; and the various psychological elements that cause problems, not only in our personal lives and relationships, but in a broader, sociological sense as well. At this point it is perhaps worth noting that the film's essay-like subtitle alludes to the style of the film, which involves a number of long, unbroken shot compositions (some longer than ten minutes) that often end abruptly, with no real sense of resolution.
Presented as a series of loosely connected vignettes that focus on the idea of character interaction as opposed to narrative direction, Code Unknown is a difficult film to appreciate, at least at the level that many of us would probably approach it. One of the main focus points here is the idea of perception; how both we as an audience and the characters in the film perceive the action unfolding from the limited point of view that we've been given. Some good examples of this would include the lengthy and suitably tense scene early on in the story; in which a number of unconnected characters all come together through a seemingly mundane event that ends with a scuffle erupting between a white teenager and a young black man, resulting in both men - and the various onlookers - being arrested. Later, midway through a particularly disconcerting scene, a toddler playing on the balcony of a high-rise apartment slips, all the while watched with horror by his terrified parents who are powerless to do anything. Then finally, towards the end of the film, we watch in eager suspense as a young Arab boy harasses Juliette Binoche's character on a Parisian metro. Throughout the film and these sequences in particular we expect something spectacular and thrilling to happen but it never seems to arrive, until, of course, we realise that 'something' is happening.
As with his most recent film, the highly acclaimed Hidden (2005), there are a number of interesting sequences in Code Unknown, which, on basis of description alone, could easily lead one to believe that they are about to watch a tense, Hollywood thriller. The film obviously couldn't be further removed from this ideal, however, with Haneke once again offering us a dour, colourless psychological study, in which characters crash into one another almost at random and cause a ripple effect that disrupts the order of everything that came before. Clearly, Code Unknown is unconcerned with thrilling the audience, at least, not in the typical sense; with the film never allowing the dramatic tension to build to anything beyond the confines of these various character vignettes that are strung together one by one in order to build up the story. This is a film that wants to enlighten with a raw depiction of everyday life; taking the viewer from moments of deadpan humour (albeit, incredibly low-key humour) to scenes that evoke a feeling of almost crippling desperation. Once again, these techniques are used to mislead the audience into thinking that the film is heading in a different, very "non-Haneke-like" direction, before switching track and confounding us all over again. If you give it some time to really get going, then the results can be oddly thrilling, and - in my opinion - probably more enjoyable and satisfying overall than anything else Haneke has directed.
Still, the film does have that sense of screaming polemic that much of the director's previous work has occasionally descended into; with the loose ends and the experiments in cinematic formalism creating a cold and intellectual exercise that will naturally turn many potential viewers away. A real shame too, because regardless of these distancing intellectual experiments, the direction, photography and acting are superb throughout, and - like The 7th Continent (1994) and Funny Games (1997) - help to weave together a beguilingly tense tapestry of guilt, anger, misery and social despair.
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