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Caché certainly is not a film for everyone. We all know it is not a film that is shown in the big multiplex cinemas but only in small ones with "special" audiences. Haneke knows pretty well which type of people will be watching his film. His image of them (us) is one of well-educated people who would never consider themselves to be xenophobic or even racist. He thinks of his audience to consist mainly of politically liberal people, people who probably disagree with the current political tendency to keep strangers out of our "western" countries. People who don't agree with closing the frontiers of Europe, the USA and of Australia to emigrants and even refugees. Moreover, Haneke considers his audience to generally like arts and culture, just like Georges and Anne do. He considers us to be people of vaguely the same class as his protagonists with similar interests.
Caché's message is not about the stalking-plot. It is about just these people, about Georges and Anne, but also about Caché's audience, about us.
Remember that scene early in the film when Georges almost gets into a fight with the guy on a bike? The man was black and Haneke certainly didn't pick a black actor by chance. You won't hear any racist insult or something like that during the film, no, of course not. Georges is not that kind of rude and abusive person. In fact he would never even admit he is every well noticing someone else's colour of skin. But of course he does, he simply can't avoid it (like we all can't). Does the fact his opponent in that scene is black change his behaviour (which is absolutely aggressive)? Georges would deny that by all means, so would we. Can we be sure?
Remember the last scene of the film, taken in front of the main stairs of Pierrot's school? It is shot in a way that will prevent you from getting a good view over what is happening easily. You are suddenly confronted with these stairs and lots of people on them, you just can't give everyone a look here fast, they are just too many. As you will have noticed, after 5 - 10 seconds Wajid's son is showing up, walking over the stairs slowly from the lower right corner of the screen to the upper left one and takes Pierrot down to the bottom of the screen to talk to him for a minute (we can't hear the dialogue of course). At what point did you notice Wajid's son during that sequence? When he started talking to Pierrot? When he walked his way up the stairs? Even earlier, when he entered the screen? If so, why did your eyes pick him among these 20-30 people moving up and down these stairs, leaving and entering the screens? Why him and not any other of the white persons on screen?
Caché is also about our visual perception. Our eyes DO make a difference, no matter what our conscience and our brains are telling them. What Caché taught me is that we just can't escape our eyes and the mechanisms behind them. At least I caught myself during that last scene for what my eyes did.
I guess Haneke knows very well that the kind of social "liberalism" I described above might just be pretended and untrue in many cases. He does not like his protagonist Georges, he definitely doesn't create sympathetic feelings within the audience for him. He's shown as a generally cold and arrogant person. Haneke doesn't like the audience either however. We are hit by many violent cuts and sharp and sudden dark / bright contrasts during the film. Haneke dislikes both Georges and us for the wrong image we have of ourselves. The fact that he does it with his very subtle and minimalistic style instead of adding to the "liberals-bashing" committed by right-wing conservatives these days is raising my respect for the director even more.
Outstanding work, Monsieur Haneke!
Starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche the film is a taut and tense personal thriller, which examines important subjects such as guilt and responsibility in the context of western comfort.
Georges and Anne are a happily married middle class couple who both work in the arts. The balance of their lives is suddenly disturbed when they begin to receive video cassettes seemingly surveying the exterior of their home. Anne is quite dismissive of the tape but immediately Georges believes there is a sinister element to the tape. Soon they receive more tapes and disturbing drawings. As Georges fears for the safety of his family he suddenly has to confront his past and allow his wife to learn the hidden secrets of his past.
Haneke's film plays on one level like a common thriller, but it has much deeper psychological echoes as the "hero" George is revealed not to be quite the upstanding family man his family believed him to be. As his wife struggles to come to terms with the revelations their entire comfortable existence disintegrates.
Haneke is not just interested in creating a thriller however and the auteur expertly dissects George and Annes bourgeois life and implicates them both in the treatment by western culture of the east and the third world.
Acting in the film is terrific. Daniel Auteuil is simply excellent in his role, the actor manages to explore his character enough to make us forget it is a portrayal. Juliette Binoche as his wife initially seems not to be at the center of the film, but the stunning actress manages to place herself at the emotional center of the film as the wife and mother.
Expert supporting roles are provided by Maurice Benichiou, Annie Girardot and Nathalie Richard among others.
"Caché" is at once an intriguing thriller and a wonderful examination of guilt and responsibility in a very modern context.
After the screening at the on-going Dubai film festival, I was amused at the director carefully distancing himself from a situation where he could have resolved the issues-he prefers to leave it to the viewer to do so. In a way the entertainment continues after the screening if you choose to reflect on what you saw.
At the obvious level, it is a study of colonial guilt of Europe and race relations. At a deeper level, it probes complacency and bourgeois temperaments of the financially secure classes in society. Escape from reality comes from closing curtains, shutting off the outside world and consuming sleeping tablets. At another level, the film explores the attitudes of three distinct generations towards social relationships.
Haneke uses graphic shocking violent scenes to jolt the audiences when they least expect it. He seems to enjoy the process. His strength is not in his cinema (Kubrick, in comparison, was brilliant at this game). Hanneke's strength lies elsewhereeliciting fascinating performances from his cast. Daniel Auteuil, Julliette Binoche, Maurice Benichou and Annie Girardot were simply fascinating to watch.
The strength of the film lies in the subject that will disturb anyone. Many of us have something in our past that we wish to hide or not discuss. Yet there is a conscience in us that nags us to believe that there was a witness to that wrongdoing--a witness who cannot be buttonholed. It is this psychological fact that makes the film tick, much less its cinematic flourish.
Like Haneke's previous "Code Unknown," "Caché" is primarily about alienation and connection. This sounds theoretical and intellectual, but the uncompromising Austrian who now makes his films in French always finds a deep emotional core in his people, in this case a core of the most infinite desperation in both perpetrator and victim. "Code Unknown" focused on chance meetings. "Caché" moves in closer to home, to this family whose peace is shattered and to another family that has never had peace. As the film begins the foreground family begins to receive increasingly menacing videos left on their doorstep that show they are being watched. Georges thinks he knows who it is.
"Caché" blends urban angst with the primal horror of Greek tragedy. What goes around comes around. For what he has explained was his starting point for the film, Haneke elliptically refers within it to the story of hundreds of Algerians the French cast into the Seine in 1961, a story recently unearthed and hitherto largely ignored. Within the film's foreground we discover that as a youth Georges himself betrayed an Algerian playmate in a way that effectively ruined his life. But the events that unfold are full of mystery and foreboding, and the relation between the Algerian, Majid (Maurice Bénichou), and Georges' current terror and disquiet largely remains uncertain. Is this a thriller? Maybe: it has a thriller's progressive unease, the suspense and pulse -- up to the end, anyway -- of a good whodunit. But Haneke, a great director in fine form here, has produced something as intellectually challenging as it is emotionally troubling. He operates without the help of surging background music, jump cuts, or snappy chases. And as the final credits roll, the closing long shot (upon which we are again voyeurs, as when the film began), shows us that nothing is resolved. A highly original artist, Haneke continues to explore.
Seen during its Paris run in October 2005. Shown first in the US at the New York and Chicago Film Festivals in October 2005. Opening in NYC and LA (US release title "Hidden") December 2005, limited US release January 2006. This is a highly visual film and should be seen if possible on a big screen.
Writer/director Michael Haneke plays visual tricks on the audience as voyeurs from the opening shot, much as he did with "Code Inconnu," as he coyly plays with technology, building on the pervasive surveillance potential of our times.
The comfortable upper middle class life of married intellectuals Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche is more and more disrupted by spooky video and drawings from some kind of stalker. With a bit heavy-handed constant background TV news coverage about terrorism and other violence in the MidEast, as well as too much irony that Auteuil works on TV (evidently in yet another book discussion show like the central narcissist in "Look At Me (Comme une image)"), race is quickly introduced as a flash point in contemporary Paris from a brief street confrontation and reinforced with Auteuil's flashback dreams of his youth.
While the political angles are obvious, the Hitchcockian tension is very effectively built up (though not narratively resolved even as some secrets are revealed that lead to other inscrutabilities), not just as we see Auteuil repeatedly lie and Binoche practically disintegrate from nerves, but through sudden violence.
While we never understand who all is lying and who isn't, the film further plays on the truth that visual images don't in fact communicate the reality of a situation and can be misleading about relationships, particularly once paranoia has destroyed trust. The film also raises the question if people change their behavior if they know they are being watched and that you can't really hide from your past. Cynically, but perhaps honestly as opposed to in "Crash," here there is no easy resolution of acceptance of guilt and responsibility in personal lives any more than there is in the legacy of colonialism and racism.
Not only is the past never dead, but the film keeps repeating issues of not just am I my brother's keeper, but the sins of the father are revisited on the sons, such that it's important to keep watching even as the credits start to appear at the end (there was much shouting when some folks got up to leave too soon, blocking cryptic clues to those behind them).
The subtitles are very poorly done, with many scenes having them white on white, instead of the much easier to read yellow.
On the most obvious level, Hidden is a thriller which, in traditional European fashion, gets under your skin in spite of long shots when nothing happens (nevertheless, it is not for the squeamish). Also in typical European fashion, it requires a little more concentration and attention span than the average Hollywood offering to interpret and understand.
George (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche) are a typical well-to-do Parisienne family. George is a TV chat show host for a literary discussion programme, his wife and young adolescent son are normal and easy to identify with. The acting is such that we see them as real people, almost as if in a documentary.
The couple are watching a video. We don't realise this at first. It's simply a video of the outside of their house, nothing more. Then the tell-tale lines on the screen appear as the video is rewound and the camera pans back. There is nothing threatening about the video except that they do not know who took it - it was just delivered on the doorstep. The exact point from which the video was shot is hard to ascertain.
Further videos arrive - still nothing threatening (the police refuse to do anything), but we can not only sense the couple's mounting panic, we are part of it. Nothing in Haneke's film so far justifies the sense of horror which we share with George and Anne but it is intense and very real. George tries to make connections from the clues so far. He feels extremely threatened. He accuses someone from his childhood. The accused is convincing in his protestations of innocence. In this climate of fear and reprisal things can only get worse.
On a second level, Hidden can be taken as both social comment on the tensions between bourgeois France and the ethnic Algerians that inhabit the poorer areas. France is unable to accept or own up to its guilt in its historic treatment of these large minorities, either in the past or the present. As a dynamic that is almost microcosmic, it reaches out to a wider world of have and have-nots, where those with power refuse to acknowledge faults because there is no-one to make them say sorry. This is conveyed in the film first from the typical settings, from wealthy modern areas to more pitiful suburbs, subtle overlays with background TV programs mentioning Iraq (British involvement, of course, not French), and the symbolic way the characters are presented enabling them to be easily transposed to analogous settings. It is a stark condemnation of how those with power (but also with suppressed guilt and a trigger-happy tendency to make accusations) cause much more damage than is necessary because of such shortcomings.
On the third level, as a work of art, Hidden is much more insidious. Director Haneke uses the camera as a tool between him and the audience in such a way that it is impossible to remain a passive, almost hidden viewer. The type of audience that the film will appeal to (educated, probably affluent) is also the one that will be most unsettled. Haneke is doing much more than telling a story - he is using the power of images to interact with his audience in a way that they are not fully aware of (until later analysis).
Then there is the question of who shot the tapes. If you really enjoyed the film but struggle with the answer (which is turns out to be different depending on whether you view it as a psychological thriller or as a polemic/work-of-art), you can go to the official website (which saves me revealing it!) - at which point you will probably want to watch it again to see the details you missed from inattention.
Hidden is a remarkably accomplished work. It is difficult to watch any scene and think of Binoche as Binoche (or Auteuil as Auteuil) rather than the character being played. In terms of directorial technique it will no doubt be an inspiration to film-makers for years to come. In terms of films that can alter the way we view the world it is first class - all the more so for the fact that its message is indirect (or hidden) rather than displayed ostentatiously and openly. Working out the superficial answer to the puzzle is all the more satisfying after piecing the clues together yourself. Working out the deeper sense, persuades by allowing the viewer to come to an undeniable realisation. Are ytou still paying attention? Don't fall asleep in this movie . . .
Two things occurred to me during the second half.
1. Georges is sent a tape of his meeting with Majid. When he went back to Majid's flat, why did this top TV personality not think to look for a the location of the hidden camera? For that matter, could he not work out where his flat was filmed from? Would he not trawl local Hi-Def video hire companies?
2. Why, when Majid killed himself, was the incident not filmed and sent out again? Would that be too 'linear' and 'logical' for the sort of audience Haneke is trying to reach? Or is it simply that it would demand too much of the scriptwriter?
Answering these questions would have demanded a stronger script than we are delivered here; the ending is a feeble cop out. Apart from that, Hidden is an average thriller.
I accept that every storyline that develops does not have to have a conclusion or that the conclusion that is given is one that I have to agree with but to grant license to this particular style of story telling and then for it to not tell the story but to leave it completely open is an exercise in frustration.
The story given, that a late reconnection with an event of your childhood would lead to a middle aged man committing suicide in front of you has no credibility at all.
We are left with the conclusion that the person filming his life was himself. Fine, but what a waste of time. To be held in a state of captive attention for two hours and to then be told that it was just a big joke on the audience is not acceptable.
a) had you glued to your seat as in "Caché", your eyes and neurones required to work in full gear from beginning to end, making it impossible to erase it out of your mind (instead of the instantly forgettable films you see every week), and actually making a second viewing almost compulsory?
b) posed such complex, multi-layered questions -- socio-political ones (the shameful, violent legacy of past and present imperialist nations, the manipulation of "reality" by the State and the media), existential ones (the racial, class and social prejudices that we all carry and have to fight within ourselves), and more prosaic ones, like trying to solve a complicated thriller? When were they so masterly interwoven?
c) made you aware that your explanation for the movie's most immediate, "practical" question (who's sending the tapes to Georges) will be influenced by your own background and prejudices?
d) had such a controversial and rich ending? (I could think of at least five possible denouements, even considering that I DID see the two boys -- q.v. the multiple theories about the ending in "Caché"'s message boards here in IMDb).
"Caché" is one of the few real masterpieces of the 2000s. The mix of socio-political comment with the thriller genre is not new, of course (you can go back at least to great German silent films by Lang, Murnau, Dieterle, Pabst). In 2005 alone, Cronenberg made the half-successful "A History of Violence", Spielberg the underachieved "Munich", Stephen Gaghan the overwrought "Syriana", Paul Haggis the soap-operatic "Crash". But Haneke asks us and gives us much more: he demands our ability to fill in the many important historical and political gaps, messes with our prejudices but respects our intelligence, and knows that a good part of us viewers are bored to death of being spoon-fed with one-digit I.Q. plots in mechanical thrillers inhabited by tired, phony "archetypes" of good x evil characters.
"Caché" is a monumental proof of Haneke's COMPLETE command of his craft. Artistic achievements like this are now SO rare in films that "Caché" feels like a happening -- a work of art that is mind-boggling, hypnotic and physically unnerving, ethically and esthetically disturbing, combining the sense of revelation and discomfort you get with the best political films with the braincells workout you get with the best thrillers.
As I left the theater, three masterpieces immediately came to my mind: Clouzot's "Le Corbeau" (a political statement disguised as a thriller and a probable inspiration for "Caché"), Antonioni's "The Passenger" (ditto, and also for the long, breathtaking, "open-meaning" last shot) and Resnais' "Marienbad" (the seminal film of multi-layered possible interpretations of "reality"). "Caché" stands tall on its own, reaffirming Haneke as one the top-5 working directors of the 2000s. Can't wait for his next film -- but while I do, I'll watch "Caché" one more time, and understand that hiding (Georges hiding his past and his feelings, nations hiding shameful parts of their history, Haneke hiding evidence, explanations and conclusions) can be a form of powerful revelation...and self-revelation.