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.
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.
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
A Fascinating Exploration of Communication Across Race, Class, Gender, Ages, Geography and Senses
"Unknown Code: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys (Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages)" is a fascinating exploration of communication, using all the elements of film to create a trompe l'oeil of sight, sound and character interactions.
We see extended vignettes of people tangentially related through an accidental intersection in Paris. In a brief interview on the Sundance Channel, where I viewed the film, writer/director Michael Haneke said he specifically selected Paris because it is one of the few European cities whose multiculturalism is so visible. We see here how it attracts immigrants not only as traditionally from the rural countryside, but now from Eastern Europe and Africa.
Though not as violent as the incidents in "Amores perros", released the same year, or the later "Crash," the unsettling confrontation influences the characters' perceptions, of each other and of authority figures. We see them made sensitive to how people look, how people talk to each other, the sounds they make, and, even more importantly, shades how they interact. We see how differently people communicate with their own families, with their friends, their parents, their children, their colleagues, their lovers or their advisers, particularly through simple life cycle events.
Sometimes Michael Haneke toys with us, as the camera moves back and reveals that a poignant situation isn't as dire as we thought, particularly playing on the terrific Juliette Binoche's well-known image as a beautiful actress (and yes, she does look beautiful even standing around in lingerie ironing while watching TV). Or he plays ironic tricks having deaf kids do emotional charades or perform in a marching drum band or creating ambiguity about a door entry code to reinforce a theme of restless homelessness. We see lovers who communicate passionately without words, in one lovely scene even without touching. (I wonder if this scene with these two inspired a related scene in Rodrigo García's recent "Nine Lives.")
One key character is a self-righteous photojournalist (really stereotypically portrayed by bearded, hunky, disheveled Thierry Neuvic in a multi-pocketed vest with an ever-present camera around his neck) documenting ethnic cleansing in Kosovo or taking candid portraits of unaware subway passengers. But he is helpless at assisting his rebellious teen brother or sullen farmer father or estranged young son. Issues of responsibility to neighbors and passersby is viscerally shown to be not the extreme goal of stopping genocide, but rather providing dignity to a fellow human being or simply listening to what's happening next door and acting on it.
Haneke provides sympathetic insight into the inner lives of African immigrants, with an ear to how happenings look different to Western rationalists than to those used to revelations of divine and interpretive meanings, particularly in dreams, or sense of time.
But while he is very sympathetic to the pushes and pulls of immigration that change people's place in society from matriarch to "the gypsy" as the universal "other" who everyone higher up in society puts down, the family scenes in the Romanian village are more stereotyped, with ethnic wedding dancing.
Haneke's disarmingly passive style, with almost no music or cinematic affectations (he even mocks his Dogme-style use of sound by showing actors in the film-within-a-film re-dubbing dialog lost to a passing airplane) does make us feel like voyeurs, with each vignette constructed in a single take. In the filmed interview he said the key opening scene took 32 takes before he was satisfied.
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