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
It is easy to appreciate a film as adventurous and as daring as this one is, but it's often too encrypted and sprawling to truly get excited about.
Code Unknown doesn't live up to the promise of its opening scene, an opening scene of which is a spectacularly composed and wonderfully executed continuous take of various people on a Parisian street intermingling, interacting and walking back and forth. People travel from one end of the street to the other, continuing their lives as we leave them and pick up another person walking back the other way; things leading onto other things and a disagreement which turns rather more ugly than anyone would like. The elegance and the effort put into the sequence places us right there on that street with all of those people, and it is a form of deep, unflinching immersement no other trick nor ploy other than and sense of filmmaking will ever produce.
One of those persons walking is Jean (Hamidi); a youngster of whom doesn't get on with his father, the other individual at the other end of the street is Anne (Binoche), who's in binary opposition to Jean in terms of gender; age and ethnicity. She appears to be in a rush and is talking busily into a cell phone – something in contrast to Jean's wondering loner, built well and hulking; an early attempt at most probably pointing out how diverse life is and how everyone occupies the same intimate plain, or street, and yet are miles apart in their ability to communicate and interpret, epitomised when squabbling break out following an altercation. Such a hypothesis might very well be at the heart of Michael Haneke's Code Unknown, I'm not sure; that of communication and interpretation and how, in spite of the fact we're all human, just being able to get along is often beyond us. In this piece, Haneke doesn't strike us as a director who uses conventional means of execution to get across a sense of unfolding high-end drama.
Take, for instance, the scene within which we are plunged into a couple enjoying time together in a swimming pool within the confines of their apartment's outdoor area – only, they fail to spot their toddler child crawling along the ledge thus staring at a thirty storey drop. After going through the motions, Haneke reveals that they were, in-fact, shooting a film within the film and none of it was real. In a re-dub session some time later, the two actor-characters begin to fall about into fits of laughter due to a joke as the unfolding drama plays out on a screen in-front of them, dominating the frame. It might be read into that this is Haneke's own cackling at what could be perceived as easy-drama and cheaper, easier ways of instilling frills into cinematic viewing; the sort of thins one might attribute to more mainstream, more "Hollywoodised", projects. Amusingly, Haneke uses a frame grab from the aforementioned pool scene for the film's poster in order to advertise his film. Another curious idea Haneke here applies is his cutting off of scenes and sentences half way through finishing; this sense of the never-ending, of the infinite and of the continuously progressive as each story literally happens in tandem feels desperately trying to push its way to the forefront of our attention. While the application of such an idea seems distinctive and creative on paper, it very quickly formulates into something just grating.
In Code Unknown, he shoot couples having arguments in supermarkets before rekindling a couple of aisles later. The heated exchange begins to a background of alcohol, an ugly debate made better once they're out and away from the intoxicating products and sharing the company of shelves sporting products of a healthier sort following their arrival at a part of the shop selling diary drinks and shelves containing beverages generally inclined to be good for you. Another strand sees an actress shooting scenes for that aforementioned fake film in which she falls afoul of a serial killer with a very specific modus operandi, that is to say the locking of people in relatively large, but empty, mahogany drenched, centuries old rooms and watching them slowly die. This idea of ugliness, encapsulated by one man's nature, combining with beauty, elegance or high-culture in the form of his chosen locale within which to kill, seems to be a juxtaposition summing up the frantic and disjointed nature of the world and those within it; those of whom are more often than not at complete odds with one another, and yet are thrust into inhabiting this same plain as before.
The film will carry along down this path, opening with a telling prelude featuring deaf children attempting to play charades with one another using only sign language – interpretation being the key verb. Here lies an example of people attempting to figure out what it is the other person is thinking; a struggling to comprehend the angle upon which they approach; the trying to see things from their point of view, before carrying on down a route of several strands depicting several sorts of people of varying ages and differing backgrounds. One cannot help but feel one is repeating one's self when one states that certain strands, stories and interactions between those therein are more interesting than others. In spite of being fully aware of the year of Code Unknown's production, the likes of everything made since, from Babel to Betty Fisher & Other Stories to the more recent Swedish film Involuntary, feels both a little bit better than Code Unknown and less top heavy. The more of these sorts of films one sees, the more impacting and more concise one feels their overall thematic needs to be in order for it to actually resonate. There are a number of examples, going back to 1993's Short Cuts, which pull off the gross influx of stories and characters that it decides to take on - this expansive; drawn-out and weighty approach to things working well here and there, but too often dragging Code Unknown down to the level of window dressing.
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