CACHE REVIEW: I saw the brilliant new Michael Haneke film Cache (Hidden) on Sunday. One of the most thought-provoking, intelligent, frustrating films I've seen in ages...probably since David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche) Laurent are two upper-crust Parisians, who live in a beautiful townhouse and have perfect - if rather perfunctory - lives. Georges hosts a tv chat show about books and Anne is an editor at a publishing house. They have a sullen 12-year-old son named Pierrot, who likes Eminem and is moving into that "rebellious" stage of puberty. Just how rebellious is one of the big unknowns of the film.
Mysterious video tapes keep popping up on the Laurents' doorstep. The tapes show that the family is under surveillance...with one tape watching the exterior of the house for more than two hours. Another one arrives showing the house at night. The Laurents can't figure out where the cameraman is hiding since the camera would have to be set up in the street. Then another tape arrives, showing the exterior of Georges' childhood home. The tape is wrapped in a crude, child-like drawing showing a chicken being decapitated. Another arrives showing a child spitting blood.
Georges thinks he knows who is sending the tapes, but refuses to share the information with Anne, which sends her into a rage. Juliette Binoche is brilliant in this confrontational scene...trembling with fear and hurt that her husband is withholding information. The police refuse to act because there has been no attack or even threat of one.
Then another tape arrives showing the exterior of a building and then an interior hallway. The camera stops outside an apartment door. Georges finds the building (located in a run-down neighborhood populated by Algerian immigrants). Inside the apartment is Majid, a man Georges age. Majid and his parents worked for Georges' family, but then Majid's family were murdered in October 1961, when police drowned hundreds of Algerians in the Seine during the height of the conflict between France and its colony. Georges' parents decide to adopt Majid, but a jealous Georges makes up horrible lies about Majid, and he is sent away to an orphanage. Is it Majid making the tapes? Obviously not. Is it Majid's own sullen teenage son? Quite possibly. Georges threatens Majid, but refuses to take responsibility for his actions since he was only a child.
Another tape arrives showing Georges threatening Majid inside the apartment. Then Pierrot disappears and his frantic parents believe Majid and his son have kidnapped him. The police arrest Majid and his son, rough them up and throw them in jail, only to release them when Pierrot shows up the next morning saying he had spent the night at a friend's house. However, Pierrot is more angry and sullen than usual, and indirectly accuses Anne of having an affair with a family friend. How could he possibly know that?
Majid summons Georges back to his apartment and the scene that follows is so shocking and unexpected that the whole audience gasped. I lurched in my seat. It's a very, very sad moment in the film.
To go any further would give away plot details. The final scene is a long static shot of a staircase filled with people coming and going. If you're not looking in the right place (left side of the screen), you will miss the casual meeting of two characters who should have absolutely no connection to each other. The implication of their meeting seems to solve the mystery of the tapes, but does it? Not really. It only begs more questions.
Cache is a meditation on guilt and responsibility...or lack thereof. It's also a political statement. France still cannot openly admit its catastrophic handling of Algiers, and the simmering racism continues to boil over as evidenced in last year's riots in the poor suburbs of Paris, which are home to many Algerian immigrants. Georges cannot admit his mistake as a child, nor does he feel any remorse now. There's a telling scene (which is pictured above) when Georges and Anne are leaving the police station. They are almost hit by an Algerian man riding a bike when they step into the street without looking. Georges berates the man, taking no responsibility. Anne, the film's voice of reason, says "it was both our faults...you didn't see us and we didn't see you." A compromise that could end many arguments if either party was bold enough to admit culpability.
Haneke films are always a challenge to the viewers. While Cache has been called his most "accessible" work, I find that to be a misnomer. If you like cookie-cutter endings with all the plot threads tied up neatly, you will hate this film. Like Haneke's other films (including the maddening The Piano Teacher and the brilliant Code Unknown), there are no easy answers. You leave the theater feeling unsettled and frustrated, and it might take a few hours or a few days to come to terms with what you've seen. But that's the beauty of Michael Haneke. See this film...open your mind.