CACHÉ (Hidden) A
Austria (117 mi) 2005 d: Michael Haneke
Winner of Best Director at Cannes, delving into the complexities of a modern era thriller, surveillance, and social privilege, perhaps not on the same level as, but in the same manner as Dreyer, Ozu, Bresson, or Tarkovsky, Haneke's formalistic execution is so flawless and precise that he disciplines the audience to reconfigure their conceptual vision of film, using a cinema by reduction, reducing what’s shown onscreen to only the barest minimum, employing subtlety to an extreme degree. An appropriate title for this film, which is an elegantly filmed, internationally implicating whodunit that offers so few clues that by the end of the film, the viewer is required to return to all the scenes of the crime and come up with their best explanation. That, ultimately, is the power of this film, that it so purposefully motivates the viewer to think for themselves in trying to figure this out. Opening with a static shot overlooking a street into a facing apartment, we sit there awhile, as if in a state of pause, and reflect on what we see. What immediately comes to mind is looking for Raymond Burr with a suitcase in a window, or leaning more towards the Clue factor, searching for the butler, with a kitchen knife, in the dining room. This simply sets the stage for what follows, as it emphasizes how the viewer might approach the practice of watching carefully. The residents of that apartment, Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil as Anne and Georges Laurent, both working professionals with a moody, yet intelligent teenage son, have received a video tape that simply watches their home over an extended period of time. This sends them into a series of questions, such as who or why, and how? Their life continues pretty much as it did before, until they receive even more specific video tapes from someone who has personal access to their lives, who is in fact spying on them, but again, they do not know who or why. When they go to the police, since no direct threat has been made on their lives, the police refuse to intervene. However their nerves begin to fray, which is expressed by Georges stepping out into the street and nearly getting his head taken off by a speeding cyclist, yelling out “You dickhead!” The cyclist, who is black, stops to confront Georges about the nature of his offensive comments. What’s curious here is how the camera itself becomes an unseen collaborator simply by observing everyday events, where viewers are caught between what appears to be reality, until suddenly what we see is being rewound, revealed to be a surveillance tape, where it’s hard as we‘re watching the film to distinguish one from the other.
With all the notoriety surrounding this film, Haneke becomes the most celebrated European filmmaker, reaching the apex moment of his entire his career, even though it was afterwards that he was twice awarded the Palme d’Or (1st prize) award for best film at Cannes, as much of his subsequent notoriety was obtained by the power and influence of this film. Exploring the personal guilt associated with past actions, this film internalizes and externalizes the consequences, using history to comment upon the malaise of the present, suggesting the past cannot stay hidden. Seeking refuge through withdrawal of moral responsibilities, people retreat to the isolation of their home, like a cocoon, hoping it provides a buttress to the violence and cruelty that exists outside. The Laurent apartment is the picture of wealth and comfort, spacious, with an entire wall lined with books, in the center a giant TV screen. He works as a television literary reviewer, where we see him working to edit out much of the dense, analytical discussion in favor of the more incendiary views sure to heighten the ratings. Georges has a hunch who the culprit may be, but he refuses to share it with his wife, claiming it is irrelevant, which sends her into a rage, an internalized disgust with him, unable to believe he doesn’t include her and what could potentially bring her harm as relevant. This also signals a guilt trip from the position of a white privileged bourgeoisie, something Georges refuses to delve into. Through a series of dreams and personal conversations, we learn more about Georges’ childhood, that an Algerian family lived and worked at his parent’s country estate when he was age 6, and they had a child about his age. At that time a historical event took place when Algeria, then a colony of France, was fighting France for its independence, an event known as Black Night on October 17, 1961 (Algerians massacred in Paris - Oct 17, 1961 - HISTORY.com), when a peaceful demonstration taking place in an Algerian neighborhood in Paris protesting the Algerian War was brutally attacked by police, rounding up 200 unarmed protesters who drowned mysteriously in the Seine River, an incident that remains thoroughly concealed in France’s colonial past, a dirty little secret that is kept hidden, wiped clean from the nation’s collective consciousness. Among the deaths are both parents of the Algerian family living with Georges, leaving behind an orphaned Algerian boy who finds himself all alone, which the family decides to adopt, but Georges was jealous of all the attention he received, and devised a plan to get rid of him. It is this boy, now a grown man, Majid (Maurice Bénichou), that Georges suspects of getting his revenge.
Interspersed with this information, we see an international television news report about the current war in Iraq, as people of Arabic descent are rounded up and arrested, many of them tortured or killed, events that have become so commonplace that they are ignored, hardly stirring up any emotions any more, events that seem to mirror the historic events in Paris some 40 years earlier. No one in the film ever questions the war. And while its presence is felt, in particular the methodology of war, which certainly includes extensive surveillance techniques, Italy, France, England, and the United States, a coalition of the willing, seem to be a gang of majority white citizens rounding up and attacking largely minority Arabic citizens, with the invading nations showing little or no regard for any cultural understanding or respect, or any regard to the consequences of their actions when so many innocents are implicated, harmed, or even killed by these methods. Instead this aggression is fueled by stockpiles of ammunitions and raw military power. Georges, living as comfortably as he does, feels no guilt or responsibility for either his own complicity with the eventual eviction of a 6-year old Algerian kid from his home, or with the unfolding international events. In fact, if Georges represents the behavior of the privileged, he’s not interested in learning the truth about any of these events, which he’d just as soon ignore and forget, as he’s too busy misplacing the blame on others, devising ways to threaten them, anything to avoid personal responsibility. Hidden behind the psychological violence of the relationship between the wealthy white man and his mysterious Algerian nemesis is the deep-seeded harm and psychological torment to his own family, something Georges completely ignores, becoming obsessed instead with the idea of blaming Majid for everything, despite his vociferous denials. Georges is Haneke’s representative of the French collective consciousness, the one that refuses to acknowledge the tragedy as well as his own involvement in the events at the Seine River in 1961. In a mirror of modern times, Georges’ contempt for and fear of Majid, as well as his refusal to face his own abusive past, reflects the exploding national crisis that burst into incendiary riots in France’s poorest communities, the urban banlieue suburbs of France last November (2005), that involved the nightly burning of cars and three weeks of rage that stemmed in part from rampant unemployment, lack of opportunities, widespread ignorance, and a complete disregard of those suffering from economic and racial discrimination. If history has taught us anything, it has always been the privileged bourgeois majority torturing the minority, never the other way around. Similarly, this is how news coverage is received in the United States, as we hear from only one side, never from the Iraqi or Arabic point of view, which keeps the truth of the current occupation “hidden” from unsuspecting viewers who, like Georges, feel no guilt or responsibility. What we are asked to do is question the validity of media information and our own understanding of how we view ourselves in relationship to others, how quickly do we implicate others, how easily are we ourselves manipulated, how long do we live in denial and fail to implicate our own actions? This just scratches the surface of some of the unanswered questions of the film.
One of the ugly truths about the film exposes negative interactions by Georges with anybody who’s non-white, always filled with threats and aggressive confrontation, where his inner rage is associated with his own pent-up white guilt. As we learn Georges lied to his parents, blaming an innocent Algerian boy, it is significant no one listened to or believed the Algerian kid. Only the white kid was believed. Georges was only six at the time, but his lies forever changed Majid’s life. This theme continues into adulthood, where Georges can be heard talking with his wife about his past, “What should I call it? A tragedy? Maybe it was a tragedy, I don’t know. I don’t feel responsible for it. Why should I?” Georges refuses to listen to or believe anything Majid or his son in the film are telling him, instead he’s quick to blame and threaten both of them. Majid, on the other hand, takes a differing view, which is cinematically shocking, in what may culturally be a noble and dignified act. The pain and suffering of all those involved are unintended consequences, something the United States military calls “collateral damage.” We never learn who initiated the surveillance, but the final shot of the film running over the credits reveals the sons of the two antagonists talking on the steps of their school, speaking comfortably and relaxed in a non-threatening manner, which at least opens up the possibility that they acted together. Majid’s son, in a confrontation with Georges, declares he didn’t make or send the tapes, as did his father, but no one asked if he knew who did. The most likely culprit, at initial viewing, acting with the knowledge and complicity of Majid’s son, who may be ashamed and disgraced by what he perceives as his own father’s submissive emasculation (which may have unexpectedly led to his own surprising actions), is Georges’ own son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky), who may be equally pissed with his parents for a number of possible reasons, though only his displeasure with his mother is even hinted at in the film, nothing else is revealed about either son. It’s all speculation suggesting the sins of the fathers are twistingly revisited onto the sons, but certainly Georges’ son has the means and opportunity, and similar to Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, based on the color of his skin, no one suspects him. For that matter, what about Georges himself, in an attempt to expunge his guilt about his past? On the other hand, this may be, if you will, a mindfuck of a film, as Haneke simply leaves this an open question without resolution. Initially, not knowing who sent the tapes, this feels like an optimistic ending, as the parental animosity seemed to be replaced by a kind of accepting friendship of the sons. Naahhh, this is a Haneke film, how can you trust optimism? Perhaps living with unanswered questions is the way it has to be, as contemporary society so often misjudges or misunderstands the information it already has at its disposal, and governments have grown so used to lying, concealing, even fabricating information, all have contributed to the disastrous consequences that reflect the world situation today.