Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Daniel Auteuil,
Director: Michael Haneke
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: Behind the Scenes, Director Interview
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: June 27, 2006
“What wouldn’t one do to protect one’s own?”
Every so often, if we’re lucky, comes a movie that seems to completely reinvigorate the possibilities that film has to offer. One of the last ones was Memento, a stylish thriller where the lead character’s short term memory loss is manifested in the way the picture actually plays out backwards, one step at a time.
Now from France comes writer/director Michael Haneke and Cache. It means “hidden”, and it’s a movie that elevates voyeurism to indescribably creepy levels. It does so without fanfare, without a music score, and without frantic camera moves and MTV-styled editing. In fact, much of the effect is created from a camera standing perfectly still. Somehow, it implicates us, the viewers. We’re not just casual observers in this world. We’re intruders.
The main subject of the film is the idea of being watched, and it happens to a middle class married couple, Anne (Binoche) and Georges (Auteuil). The opening is a still shot, looking at a building as the credits actually write themselves on the screen in front of us, so that the complete credits are actually all on the screen at the same time. As they play out, the still shot remains, intriguing our curiosity. But we soon realize we weren’t looking at exactly what we thought we were.
The house in view belongs to the couple. Someone has been videotaping it and sending the tapes to them. Why? A harmless prank, or a real threat? As the videos continue to come, some accompanied by what appears to be a child’s drawings of rather macabre pictures, they grow more worried. They contact the police, but since no harm has actually been done, they can’t help.
As we watch the drama unfold in their family (the couple along with their teenage son), sometimes we can’t be sure if we’re watching with our own eyes or through the eyes of their stalker. At one point, Georges has a hunch who might be behind it all, and it leads him back to a childhood memory he successfully repressed and to those who were involved in it. But it may or may not have anything to do with current events.
I can’t be too descriptive here, for at least a couple of reasons. One is that the best way to view this film is with as little foreknowledge as possible. It’s best not to learn anything ahead of the characters and the way they experience them. And two is that this is a completely unconventional movie. Trying to draw an outline from beginning to resolution is impossible. People are going to walk away discussing what they saw, and hardly any will come to the same conclusion.
It’s a little political and a little social…one of the events described in the movie is a real piece of French history that’s almost as repressed in their country as Georges’ youthful actions are in his own mind. In the supplements, Michael Haneke states that he himself was unaware of that particular happening until only two years prior. Socially, one could consider the way upper and middle classes view the poor. Georges made a mistake once, and he couldn’t really be blamed for it at six years of age, but some mistakes have very far reaching consequences.
The real crux of the movie is its style, which as mentioned, Haneke achieves in very simple ways. Cache is more psychologically creepy than any movie I’ve seen in recent memory. He holds his camera still for so long it will unnerve you. And Georges and Anne frequently find that they were filmed from angles where a camera should have been readily visible and apparent, but somehow, they never notice. The style seems to impact their relationship as well…insecurities seem to rise to the surface once a simple, ordinary couple have to come to terms with the fact that they’re somehow no longer invisible.
If it can be classified as a thriller, it’s one that defies conventions. There is mystery, to be sure, but no process. It’s not a ‘whodunit’ or a ‘who’s doing it’. Those used to narratives that follow a well defined road map that brings them from point A to point Z hitting every letter faithfully along the way might be a little put off by Haneke’s unwillingness to serve his vision to us in easy, palatable ways. But I defy anyone to watch this movie and be able to put it out of their minds afterwards.
The last shot, I think, will grow to become legendary. As with many before, it’s a single camera set up, and the camera never moves. We’re in front of a school. There is activity all up and down the steps. Our eyes naturally follow one character in the foreground. But remember…the title translates “hidden”. Look again. Back the disc up if you have to. There is something happening amongst the hubbub that might just explain the whole thing. Or it might just raise more questions than it answers.
I find it an absolute breath of fresh air when a filmmaker doesn’t feel the impulsive need to reveal every trick he’s got hidden up his sleeve. Sometimes, the best gambits are the ones left unexplained. And sometimes, the most satisfying feeling you can have is the feeling that you’re wanting something more.
Sony’s anamorphic transfer is quite striking. Visuals are important here, but not in the way we’ve become accustomed. There aren’t special effects or groundbreaking set designs. But there is a lot of information for us to take in and process nonetheless. There may even be, on some level, more to see in this movie than in a Lord of the Rings installment.
The soundtrack features 5 channel audio with no subwoofer signal, but being that there’s no score, it isn’t missed. As with the visual style, the audio is equally subtle and important in more ways than one. Listening is just as important as watching, and this digital offering creates ambience and atmosphere in many key scenes. For maximum experience, though, I recommend making your home theatre as quiet as possible before popping the disc in. You’ll get much more out of it that way.
There is a behind-the-scenes featurette and an interview with Michael Haneke, each about a half hour long.
It’s rare that a critic can say that a movie offers you something you really haven’t experienced before, but it is my joyful duty to report to you, dear reader, that Cache is such a film. It’s often been said that watching a movie is an intrinsically voyeuristic experience, but it’s never been taken to this level before. This is one of the year's…nay, the millennium's, best offerings.