I was wary of this film when I started watching it. I knew that director Michael Haneke had no qualms about torturing his audience with sickening violence, offering no mercy, no happy ending, just to prove a point. But Caché is not like that. It manages to convey its message in a much more subtle and interesting way than Funny Games (1997) ever did. Haneke may also succeed in his probable aim of instilling a sense of guilt in his French audience.
The Laurents (Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche) live a comfortable middle class life in Paris together with their 12-year-old son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). One day they receive a videotape in the mail; someone has filmed their house for two hours. There’s nothing else on the tape and the experience makes Georges and Anne feel uneasy. Is it a joke? Why would someone do that? The tape is followed by another that’s similar in content. It also comes with a crayon drawing of a boy with blood gushing out of his mouth. The Laurents go to the police who say they can’t do anything about it; as they see it, nothing has really happened. A new tape shows the house where Georges grew up; another one is filmed inside a car and brings the viewer to the door of an apartment. Georges and Anne figure out the location and he decides to go there; he now has an idea of who could be responsible. He knocks on the door and a middle-aged, Algerian man (Maurice Bénichou) opens it. He tells Georges that he is Majid, the boy who once lived with him and his parents after his mother and father (who worked for the Laurents) were killed during the 1961 Paris massacre.
Georges tells Majid to stop sending him videotapes, but he claims not to be responsible. Georges tries to forget about Majid and ignore his own feeling of guilt, but his behavior threatens to ruin his marriage.
Keeping us guessing
The film is shot on video, which actually serves a purpose here; in the beginning of several sequences we’re not sure if we’re watching one of the videotapes or the actual movie. That is specially true in the final sequence (which also has another surprise…). Haneke wants to keep us guessing throughout his film and make us feel uncomfortable; there’s no music score, but he creates suspense nevertheless thanks to the mystery of the videotapes. He wants us to be as intimidated as the Laurents.
At the same time, the film also portrays the fragile relationship between the French and the Algerians. Many innocent Algerians were killed in the 1961 massacre and France refused to acknowledge that fact until 2001. Auteuil’s character becomes a symbol of French mistreatment of Algerians, on a personal level; he’s still haunted by nightmares because of what he did to Majid as a six-year-old. He won’t accept responsibility and can’t see the current situation from anyone else’s perspective but his own, not even that of his wife.
The actors are very good (particularly the two stars whose reactions and demeanor remain credible throughout the story) and Haneke has us hooked in spite of the slow pace; he wants us to ponder the consequences the acts of a person or a nation can have over many years and what that means.
Those looking for closure after the upsetting confrontations between Georges, Majid and his son will be disappointed. The director only offers more twists, more questions. He may not torture us like he did in Funny Games, but he enjoys playing tricks on us. He is after all the person who once said that a feature film is 24 lies per second.
Caché 2005-France-Italy-Germany-Austria. 118 min. Color. Produced by Andrew Colton, Veit Heiduschka. Written and directed by Michael Haneke. Editing: Michael Hudecek, Nadine Muse. Cast: Daniel Auteuil (Georges Laurent), Juliette Binoche (Anne Laurent), Annie Girardot (Mrs. Laurent), Lester Makedonsky, Maurice Bénichou, Bernard Le Coq.
Trivia: British title: Hidden.
Cannes: Best Director. European Film Awards: Best Film, Director, Actor (Auteuil), Editor.
Last word: “Illustrating the questionable aspect of how cinema claims to represent reality for the audience is important to me. As a movie audience we know that it’s not real. But there’s a difference between knowing something and feeling it. For that reason this form of self-reflection is indispensable. In literature no serious author these days would claim that he’s reproducing reality, he always reflects on the means he uses in his work. Cinema should do the same thing, if it’s intended to be an art form. If I just wanted to make use of a mechanism for diversion, leaving all that out would be legitimate. At the same time however that’s a different kind of cinema than 90% of what’s made these days.” (Haneke, AFC)