Opens Fri., Jan. 27, at Guild 45

Watch the very last shot of Caché very closely to resolve this question: Who sent all those goddamn videotapes? Michael Haneke's rigorously unsettling film is guaranteed to keep you up late, arguing over who was torturing the comfortably bourgeois Laurent family with secrets from the past. Georges (Daniel Auteuil) is the self-satisfied host of a TV chat show about books, although he never seems to read any. Wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) is in publishing, although she never seems to do much work. Their 12-year-old son, Pierre, never seems to leave his room except for swim team practice. One day, a videotape of their home is dropped on their doorstep; Georges and Anne anxiously watch the illicit document—like an unblinking Warhol study of their previously unexamined lives. More tapes and a few crude drawings follow from what Anne calls "our asshole stalker," but without any indication of what the stalker wants or who he is. The cops can't help them, and they're embarrassed to tell their friends. Why should they suddenly attract such ominous scrutiny? Past and present literally bleed together in Caché (which means "hidden" in French). Georges begins having nightmares—or are they flashbacks prompted by his harasser?—of children coughing up blood and beheading chickens. The film also blurs reality in Haneke's methodical plan: Long-take scenes, shot on high-def, begin from what we think is our perspective; only gradually do we realize it's another mysterious tape that Georges and Anne are watching and commenting upon. Caché puts their nerves on edge, pushes them off balance, and does the same to us as well. Reality becomes unreal, and the normal suddenly suspect. It's of a piece artistically with Haneke's other films (Time of the Wolf, The Piano Teacher, Funny Games, etc.), all of which lift the scab of polite society to show the rawness oozing beneath. "I have nothing to hide," Georges protests to Anne, who begins to have doubts about how well she knows her husband. Clues in the tapes lead Georges to one of the sad banlieue tower blocks outside Paris; there, an even sadder old Algerian called Majid (Maurice Bénichou) denies he's the unseen videographer. What's his connection to Georges? Georges won't tell Anne, which places more strain on their marriage. She has friends to confide in (including one ruggedly handsome guy with whom she seems intimate). He apparently trusts no one but his aged mother, who advises him to let the past lie: "It's not a happy memory," she says. Indeed. Nothing rooted in bad conscience can be. Caché doesn't look like a political film, but its scope is global. Between arguments, in the background of the Laurents' domestic strife, the TV flickers silent images of Iraq, Palestine, and other old European colonies turned violent and unstable. Haneke never makes explicit reference to them, but it's a short step from the French experience with Algeria to there, and from Algeria to Georges. In common, these colonialists had the power to do good, to share their wealth and lift up their poor, brown-skinned cousins. And if they failed to do so? If they were parsimonious with their liberty and ideals? To be reminded of this shortcoming seems like a violent assault. That's why, to Anne and his co-workers, Georges' intransigence and denial about his family history ("I don't feel responsible for it") makes him seem the aggressor. He claims to be the aggrieved victim, but people are increasingly afraid of him. Auteuil hardly looks the villain, with his shy presence and nervous eyes; then he explodes into a shouting match with an African cyclist who startles him on the street. Yet Caché isn't the sort of movie where the hero turns out to be a Nazi or a war criminal; it's more concerned with the everyday atrocities of silence and assent—the moral failure, as it were, to rescue the drowning man. And Haneke isn't only indicting Georges. All around the world, Caché suggests, the oceans are rising around our ankles, bringing with them a tide of corpses that can't be contained on the TV screen. (R)

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