Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mini-Review: Code Unknown

I admire Haneke's ability to blend so many layers into a narrative. This is a story of fractured relationships and social injustice, highlighting our inability to communicate on the level of personal relationships, communities, or nations. I also admire this filmmaker's ability to convey so much, in quiet, still moments, with few words.

In one of the opening scenes of this film, two young men get into an argument on a Parisian street. One is Jean (Alexandre Hamidi), an angry French teen who threw a piece of trash at a Romanian woman soliciting handouts. The other is Amadou (Ona Lu Yenke), a young man of Malian descent who, indignant at Jean's behavior, tries to force him to apologize. The police become involved in the altercation, and Jean is soon joined by his sister-in-law Anne (Juliette Binoche), a beautiful, articulate French woman. In an infuriating sequence of events, Jean and Anne go on their way, while Amadou is arrested and the Romanian woman is deported.

I was reminded of my husband's experiences as a police officer in Waynesboro. The department regularly received drinking in public complaints on people of Mexican descent for having a beer on their front porch, after work, on a hot day. An "offense" that would go unnoticed if the people involved were white and comfortably middle class. As much as this angered my husband, I'm willing to bet the people filing these complaints had no conscious awareness of being racist or of making assumptions based on socioeconomic status.

This is just one example of the universal quality of the issues glimpsed in this movie. There are many stories here: The difficult relationship between an actress and her boyfriend, a foreign war correspondent who is becoming increasingly disconnected from his own life. The schism between a farmer and his son, who live in agonizing silence. The struggles of Romanian families who find they must leave the country to find employment. The experiences of a French family of Malian descent. And there is much more. These threads are loosely bound together, because all these people were affected by the argument on the street corner, a seemingly small incident that has sent cracks running through all the narratives. There is also a jaw-clenchingly painful scene, where a woman is sexually harassed on a subway, that I've never been able to get out of my head.

This is a complex, engrossing film that definitely warrants a second viewing. It kept me wondering  what people were communicating, through their words and actions, and thinking about the intricate web of connections among people of different nationalities, cultures, and social classes.


  1. Saw it last year. I remember thinking it's very cryptic, with lots of ideas. But also a bit uneven pacing with some slow moments, and a tough film for the viewer to connect all the stories to an understandable whole.
    A couple of scenes were especially tense and gripping to me, both you mention, on the subway, and the argument on the street.

    1. It is a somewhat cryptic movie, isn't it? I thought that worked in the sense that it left me guessing about what people were communicating with their words and behavior, which I felt was a large part of the point of the movie. But, yes, I can definitely see how it would be difficult to connect with.

  2. Somehow missed this when you first posted it, but I'm glad you appreciated this film. That scene on the subway is very disturbing and feels almost too real. I also love the various stories and the way Haneke really challenges the viewer with deceptive simplicity.

    1. "Haneke really challenges the viewer with deceptive simplicity" -- I love that! That describes it perfectly.

      I thought this was a terrific movie. I want to watch it again soon.


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