Sunday, December 23, 2012


Caché was filmed in Paris by Austrian director Michael Haneke (behind camera, above) and debuted at Cannes in 2005. It won a stack of awards there and went on to win more all over Europe. Thoughtful essays examined the "density" of meanings packed into each scene, justifying the general perception that the film was a masterpiece.

But like any film that denies the audience an uplift at the end (and withholds Hollywood-formula signposts along the way), Caché  was sneered at in the U.S. Mick LaSalle writing in my own local San Francisco paper informed prospective viewers that Haneke does "everything he can to bore the audience, and the audience tries not to fall asleep or flee the theater," making the film an "exercise in pain."

Haneke specifically observed in an interview that if his film had been made by Americans, the crisis faced by Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil (playing a sophisticated and prosperous married couple) would ultimately have provided an opportunity for their mutual growth and enlightenment. "I don't think life really works that way," said Haneke, casually dismissing the delusional optimism that dominates the world's dominant culture.

Binoche and Auteuil (living in the house shown above) begin to receive surveillance tapes of their own dwelling. The tapes are wrapped in disturbing drawings that may or may not have been made by a child. No other explanation is offered. The mystery itself, unaccompanied by actual threats, is more than enough to set their comfortable lives unraveling.

Personally, my only problem with the movie came from Juliette Binoche, who occasionally distracted me from the story because I would get lost in contemplating the fathomless gorgeousness of her face. But her screen time is rationed, and the quality of her acting generally overpowers even her own beauty. 

Ultimately the tapes lead to an Algerian man living on the outskirts of Paris in public housing and the "hidden" story alluded to in the movie's title begins to unfold.

In another interview sequence, Haneke (above) summarizes his method as writer-director-editor – "enter the scene as late as you possibly can and leave it as early as you possibly can."  This shorthand approach – refined over a long, hugely ambitious career – serves him to perfection in Caché. No shot is gratuitous. Nothing hurried, yet nothing wasted. Every frame, every word, every gesture contributes to a central coherent meaning, while preserving the illusion that the patterns are random.

Yet the opinion that prevails in the place where I live asserts that, on the contrary, Haneke is doing "everything he can to bore the audience."  Many of the Californians in my own circle of acquaintance consider Mick LaSalle a film savant, a witty guy, even a minor variety of regional celebrity. I consider him an ignorant yahoo.