Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Code Unknown : Incomplete Tales of Several Journies, created by Austrian director Michael Haneke, was built around the screen presence of Juliette Binoche. Her role anchored several inconclusive, intersecting stories about runaways and immigrants weaving through a drably urbanized Paris at the turn of the 20th century, far from the postcard Paris of bridges and fountains. Haneke often filmed Binoche outdoors, always in motion, crossing the workaday city on foot or by Metro, pursuing in a sort of flurry her life as a successful actress. Street-scenes were abruptly intercut with acting-scenes  extended single-shots of Binoche performing on a movie set or doing a try-out in a cavernous theater or dubbing dialogue while face-to-face with her own projected self Juliette Binoche's actress-character within the film was fulfilling various contracts, various jobs. Meanwhile, the audience of Code Unkown was also peeking inside another whole group of partial stories from these pretend-movies and pretend-plays. Like the scenes in the street with immigrants and runaways, the snippets of Binoche doing acting jobs in various characters were often difficult to place in context. The acting-scenes and street-scenes increasingly appeared to bleed into each other.

Code Unknown debuted at Cannes in 2000 and then went on the festival and theater circuit. It won no prizes to speak of and found no general audience.

Haneke wrapped his star in a drab trenchcoat during most of her street scenes. For the movie's "everyday-street-reality" segments he made gestures toward underplaying Binoche's beauty. A plain khaki trench against pale skin generally tends to suggest a complexion like cookie dough. Yet the cheekbones were bound to prevail.

In fact, the French trench in Code Unknown is far less horrible than the Austrian trench Haneke would inflict on Isabelle Huppert the following year, in the course of making their mutual masterpiece (so far), The Piano Teacher.