Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Film Review: Caché

Year Released: 2005

Written & Directed by: Michael Haneke

Review by: Steph

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Why I Watched This (and Why I Almost Didn't)/What It's About: This was my first foray into watching Haneke's films -- frankly, he's a director who's always scared me a bit. I have mixed feelings about deliberately provocative filmmakers. :-) Furthermore, I was reluctant to watch Haneke's work because I'd heard about actual animal killings in a number of his movies, including Caché.

Without going into a lot of detail, a chicken is killed in this movie. I could make peace with the killing if the chicken was used for some other purpose ... y'know, if someone actually ate it after the scene was filmed. After all, I eat chicken, buying it only if it was humanely raised. But the creature in this movie seemed to be suffering. And there were kids involved in the scene.

However, this movie has been recommended by many bloggers, and Alex kind of helped push me off the fence and convinced me I should try some of Haneke's films. So I watched Caché, though part of me wanted to dislike it. Unfortunately for me, it's freaking brilliant. :-)

The film centers on a French couple, Georges and Anne, with an adolescent son. Their peaceful life is shaken when mysterious videotapes begin appearing at the house. The videos reveal shots of the outside of their home and Anne and Georges going about their quotidian activities. Is someone stalking them? If so who ... and why? Are they in danger?

I won't say any more until I get to the spoiler section of this post, because it's best to go into this movie knowing as little as possible. The story appears deceptively simple at first, but it unwinds into a multilayered character and relationship study -- and an edgy, uncomfortable experience -- that illuminates broader social issues.

The Rest of My Review (Some Spoilers):

Throughout my life, the media has bombarded us with information -- often sketchy or incomplete -- about atrocities my own government has committed, usually against people in so-called "developing" countries. I won't attempt to parse out all the details. But several weeks ago, as our nation was mourning the senseless deaths of 6- and 7-year-old children in a school shooting in Connecticut, several editorial writers pointed out the number of kids killed by U.S. military drones in Pakistan. Occasionally a news article or incident will shake me up, making me aware of how numb and passive I've gradually become. How can I live through these events and not be outraged?

In Caché, Michael Haneke creates a jarring experience like this, both for his characters and his audience. The film holds up a mirror to people like me, challenging our acceptance and unexamined guilt related to the lives and deaths of people robbed of the basic sense of security and human dignity most of us take for granted.

The movie starts with a relatively simple story about a middle-class French family. Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche do amazing work as Georges and Anne, a couple whose lives are disrupted, creating increasingly anxiety and fear, by the arrival of mysterious videotapes and disturbing childlike drawings. We soon realize, through quick, jarring flashbacks, that Georges's past is coming back to haunt him.

Binoche is well known by American movie viewers, but I'd never seen Auteuil. He impressed me immensely.  I could feel Georges's repressed rage and guilt, writhing just below the surface, virtually every moment he was onscreen. This mood was heightened by the quiet style of film-making, with many long, still shots, which made me feel a bit edgy and restless.

Through Georges and Anne, we are offered a spare but interesting study of a vulnerable marriage. Though we are given virtually no back story, we sense the widening cracks and deepening distrust and anger between them. What causes their relationship to be so tense and fragile? Why is their 12-year-old son, who seems to be spending as much time away from home as possible, so filled with rage? Beneath the adolescent angst, there's so much explosive pain. We witness several arguments, and we realize that Anne may or may not be playing around on the side with Pierre, a family friend. But our questions are never answered.

Then we learn the context of the disturbing videotapes and drawings, though their purpose is never actually revealed. The videos strew a trail of breadcrumbs leading to the home of Majid, a man of Algerian descent. As a small boy, Majid lost his family to a French massacre. As a six-year-old boy, Georges committed acts of jealousy and cruelty that robbed Majid of a secure future. Here we step into a tangle of painful questions, including issues of race, socioeconomic status, and imperialism. Issues to which our protagonists seem oblivious.

Although we sense the weight of his long-repressed guilt, it is difficult to empathize with Georges. His childhood crimes are deeply unsettling. And his continued lies and refusal to take responsibility for his behavior -- along with his aggressively obnoxious attitude -- makes him unbearable. Furthermore, he and Anne often come across as inexcusably self-absorbed. For example, what parents don't know whether their 12-year-old is in the house late at night? As a viewer, I wanted to connect with them and root for them in their dilemma, but I couldn't. This creates an experience that is frustrating and uncomfortable but still compelling.

One reviewer on IMDb made an interesting point. Haneke assumed that people similar to Georges and Anne would comprise most of his audience. Predominantly middle class, above average education, "liberal" minded. People who would never think of themselves as racist. Perhaps he wants us to see ourselves reflected in Georges, who reveals unspoken bigotry when he launches an unnecessary rant against a young man who happens to be black. I grew up in an academic community, in the 1970s, where liberal professors spoke in favor of civil rights a few miles away from impoverished neighborhoods inhabited exclusively by minorities. Listening to the comments I heard, it became infuriatingly clear to me that bigotry was alive and well among these academics -- they were just clever enough to avoid being blatant about it. So this perspective on Caché resonates with me. And it blends seamlessly with the themes of imperialism, repression, and social injustice.

We struggle with these issues while trying to unravel the mystery of the videotapes. Then we abruptly reach the end of the movie. It's a frustratingly inconclusive ending. Who sent the damned tapes? Why? Yes, I know this is an art film, damn it, but it still drove me nuts. :-) I have a theory about the maker of the pictures and videotapes -- I guess we all do. If it makes us think about and discuss the film in excruciating detail, I suppose Haneke has succeeded in his quest to get our attention.

Autodidact's Note: Since I'm a history buff, this film piqued my interest in learning more about the long struggle between France and Algeria during the 1950s and 1960s. I found this book which I think will be an interesting read.

Bibliophile's Connection: Novelist and philosopher Albert Camus, pioneer of "Absurdism," spent part of his life in French-occupied Algeria and it had a strong influence on his writing. The Plague takes place in Northern Africa, and The Stranger focuses on a Frenchman who murders an Arab in Algeria. These two novels are probably his best-known works. I made a note to re-read The Plague and to read The Stranger.


  1. Excellent review here Steph. I too found the film a little frustrating with it's lack of answers but it's still a sublime piece of work. It's been a while since I seen it but a revisit is on the cards. Thanks!

    1. Thanks! I want to watch this a second time, too.

  2. Excellent review! A second viewing is a must, but this blew me away on a first look. Sometimes I find long, unbroken takes can be gimmicky, and puzzling films can be tiresome. Haneke, on the other hand, knows how to use both to great effect.

    Bela Tarr is another director famous for long takes, but I find Haneke to be the more accomplished with it. Though, Tarr's and Hranitzky's The Turin Horse has extraordinary long takes.

    1. Thanks, Josh! The last few lines of the first paragraph of your comment sum things up nicely. I had the same reaction -- odd, risky filmmaking choices but ... damn ... they just WORK. :)

  3. Great review! Despite them killing the chicken I did not hate the movie, I thought it was good and the ending was brilliant - the strong suggestion to who sent the tapes is actually hidden there in that long take, it shows certain characters talking, but we don't hear what they are talking about :)

    1. Yes, I picked up on the same thing, and it fit with what I already suspected. So in a way, you could count it as a conclusive ending -- and there are a few hints as to why he did it -- but still so many unanswered questions. :-) Both brilliant and frustrating.

  4. Excellent review of one of my favorite films. I like how you personalized the review in saying that the film sort of mirrors who you are in a way. I agree with Josh, a second viewing (or even more) is a must. Question, did you see what Haneke wants you to see in the final shot (in front of the school)? A lot of people don't. That's one of the major pieces to the puzzle, I think.


Hello, and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts -- reader comments make this blogging gig worthwhile. :-) Due to excessive spam, we are now moderating all comments. Like that dude in the Monty Python skit, we just Don't ... Like ... Spam. I will try to post and respond to your comments as quickly as possibly.