Michael Haneke’s 2005 mental thriller Caché is best characterized as a cinematic attack on your sanity. Upon leaving the theatre after viewing Caché, to say I was extremely disturbed would be an understatement. In fact, I had a minor meltdown while walking along High Street rendering me closer in appearance to that of a mentally unstable homeless person with a respiratory problem than that of a college junior exiting film class. The film is fabulously well made, completely captivating in its narrative, emotionally jarring, and has caused me much mental anguish over the past 24 hours. I don’t think I’ll ever voluntarily watch it again.
Caché begins with a disturbance in the lives of Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil), a successful host of a television program in Paris, his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) and their younger teenaged son Pierrot. The Laurent’s have received a surveillance tape of their lives from an unknown source, and while they are immediately concerned, the police refuse to help them while the tapes remain “non-threatening.” Soon, the tapes come accompanied with crude drawings involving a child bleeding from the mouth and a beheaded rooster. As Georges delves deeper into the mystery of who is sending him these tapes and why, an incident from his own childhood is called into recollection, and the questions without answers further unravel the Laurent’s peaceful life and descend the family into a state of constant paranoia.
To start, the acting in the film is brilliant. Juliette Binoche is wonderful as a concerned mother and wife, dealing with trust issues in the face of an impossible difficult situation. The intimate moments of concern she shows for her family coupled with the anger and confusion over her current situation is perfectly blended with her scenes as the smiling hostess for a dinner party or the proud mother of a champion swimmer. It is not an easy feat to portray a character with that many layers, and it further solidifies my love of Binoche as an actress. I’ve yet to see a movie I don’t adore her in.
Paired against Binoche’s modern mother and wife is Daniel Auteuil’s portrayal of the television personality and father, Georges. I found Georges to be a generally unlikable character. He is a man who is occasionally withdrawn from his family, secretive in nature and one with an affinity for losing his temper unwarranted at the most inopportune moments. That being said, it is very hard not to feel bad for the guy being tormented by his past and an unknown aggressor. Georges goes through some of the most horrifying incidents in the film, and Laurent does an admirable job of pulling all of those elements together.
However, the true greatness of Caché is in the plot. Haneke has created a perfect script for this film in the balance of discourse and story. Most interesting, is the elements of the story that are not in the discourse, which the audience has no way of recovering. Some of the most crucial elements of the story need to be interpreted and assumed, and it is likely that each viewer will have a different reading of the ending of the film. But the elements of the story that Haneke does show us are a fascinating mix of fundamental scenes for the discourse and seemingly unnecessary moments of family life or surveillance footage, begging the question, why are we shown what we are shown? Haneke could clearly make this an unambiguous “closed” film a la the work of directors such as Fritz Lang or Alfred Hitchcock, but he doesn’t. He chose to make an open and ambiguous film more in the vein of Jean Renoir or Cristian Mungiu. This serves his purpose extremely well, as the film is more mentally anguishing afterwards with the concern over the various “missing” elements. The ambiguity of the film is what makes it so haunting.
The Times in London listed Caché as number one in the “Best 100 Movies of the Noughties” released in the UK from 2000-2009, an interesting choice for a city with more Closed Circuit TeleVision (CCTV) surveillance cameras in public places than in any other country in the world. While on the other hand, when it was reviewed for the San Francisco Chronicle it was absolutely panned by Mick LaSalle. The threat and paranoia of unwanted surveillance in Caché is the ultimate driving force behind the film, and it clearly resonates with some audiences rather than others. It certainly is a cinematic achievement on its own, worth maybe seeing once, but I admit I’d have a hard time recommending it to anyone I didn’t want to experience some serious mental disturbances. That being said, I’m still giving it four out of four stars. I have to admit, it absolutely captivated my attention throughout the entire 117 minutes, and while I may not have clearly enjoyed the film, I certainly didn’t not enjoy it either.