Caché Movie Review

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A low-rent setup for two penthouse-level thespians, Michael Haneke's Caché is somehow rigorous yet formless, absolutely exacting in its procedure, yet seemingly bereft of intent and meaning, scrupulously acted for not much reason at all. Derived from the same nervous Parisian bourgeois milieu as writer/director Haneke's Code Unknown but quite a bit more tightly-packed, it's a thriller wrapped inside a moral lesson and presented with the glassy omnipotence of the true voyeur.

The story owes a debt on some level to that greatest of cinematic voyeurs, Hitchcock, whose corpulent presence seems constantly in the filmmaker's mind. Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil plays Anne and Georges Laurent, a perfectly respectable married example of the modern Paris intelligentsia. She works for a publisher where she can set her own hours, while he hosts a literary TV talk show. They have a nice little flat and a nice son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). This is all filled in later, however, as the first thing we see is a static shot of the Laurent household which turns out to be a videotape Anne and Georges are watching which had been left on their doorstep with no explanation. Someone simply set up a videocamera across from their flat and filmed it for hours on end. Things escalate, of course, with tapes mysteriously appearing, soon with childlike drawings attached, of a face spitting blood, a chicken getting its head cut off. Someone starts calling for Georges, sending the tapes to his work, sending the notes to Pierrot at school. And there is no demand, no message, no anything but the constant surveillance and the feeling (soon proven) that the watcher knows more than the Laurents would like about themselves and their past, especially Georges'.

It's a Hitchcock scenario, with implied guilt and misunderstandings galore, via one of Paul Auster's existential mystery novels, and it has plenty of potential - though the surveillance is so meticulously recorded that it's a wonder how any payoff could hope to match. Binoche pulls out all the stops here, the quiet but deadly hostile wife with much more to her than could be guessed at a glance. Auteuil is pitch-perfect for the self-aggrandizing pseudo-intellectual Georges (spoiled in that classically Gallic way, country estate, doting mother and all), his pouchy face and heavy sense of worry barely concealing his complete self-absorption. Almost topping the two of them, though, is the serene and elegant Algerian actor Maurice Bénichou as Majid, a lonely middle-aged man who played a dramatic role in Georges' childhood and could well have something to do with the surveillance.

So what is Caché missing? It's difficult to say, given how well Haneke teases out the ways in which the passive yet terrifyingly relentless surveillance starts prying apart the Laurents' already fragile marriage, the ease with which he negotiates his actors through the bewildering terrain, and the knee-to-the-gut manner in which he disposes of a major character. Maybe it's that there's no escaping the fact that - deeper themes aside - this is at root a yuppies-in-danger scenario that would have been right at home in the 1990s, maybe with Michael Douglas starring. And for all the skill with which Haneke lacerates the lies and hypocrisy of his bourgeois targets, there's not enough there to escape the nagging feeling that this is simply a thriller with pretensions and uncommonly good actors - no matter how many more substantial themes it wants to tackle. Given the length of space given over here to screening surveillance footage, there's plenty of time for viewers to wonder about such things.

Aka Hidden. Reviewed at the 2005 New York Film Festival.

The DVD as somewhat less satisfying due to the limitations of the small screen (which makes decoding the critical final scene nearly impossible). It includes behind the scenes footage and a documentary about Haneke.

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Caché Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2005


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