Caché (Hidden)

By Peder Clark

cache-hidden-michael-haneke-1.jpgCaché (Hidden), 2005

Michael Haneke's award-winning thriller is released on DVD

"I always say that a feature film is twenty-four lies per second”

At the Cannes press conference for his latest film Caché (Hidden), Michael Haneke turned Jean-Luc Godard’s famous phrase inside-out. Haneke’s films have always played with this idea, challenging the audience’s assumptions about what they are watching. In Code Inconnu (Code Unknown) (2000), Juliette Binoche becomes hysterical when a child is close to falling off the roof of an apartment. It is only when we hear Binoche laugh off-screen that we find out that the entire scene is taking place in a studio where she is overdubbing her voice for a film she is appearing in. Haneke is continually teasing his audience, asking them to question their assumptions about the images that they are viewing.

Caché is no different. It opens with a stationary shot of a suburban Parisian apartment. For a couple of minutes, nothing much happens. Residents move in and out of shot, shadows fall and leaves rustle in the trees. Suddenly the shot breaks up, and the surveillance tape is rewound. Throughout the film, it is never clear what we are watching, and the protagonists are never sure when they are being watched. It emerges that television art show presenter Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteil) and the flat that he shares with his wife Anna (Binoche again) and his son is being filmed by a hidden camera, and the resulting videotapes are being posted to him, often wrapped in disturbing hand-scrawled pictures.

cache-hidden-michael-haneke-2.jpgCaché (Hidden), 2005

Georges Laurent suspects the tapes are being sent to him by an Algerian man (Majid), who lived with his family when they were both children. Georges cruelly bullied and scapegoated Majid until the Algerian was finally sent away, and Georges suspects the tapes are his revenge. The truth is never revealed.

Caché deals with lies and secrets in a far wider sense than just the cinematic question of how we can trust what we are being shown. The title could refer to any number of lies and secrets that the plot hinges upon. Does it refer to the hidden cameras, which Georges never finds? The dirty secret that Georges has kept from his wife, his mother and his work colleagues? Or does it refer to Majid and ethnic minorities like him, who are hidden geographically in their ghettos, and administratively, by France’s non-categorisation of data by race?

Much has been made of the film’s political content, and some critics have viewed Caché as an allegory for France’s relationship with Algeria, as Georges fears that retribution for his past indiscretions, from whoever is making the tapes, will be focused on his son. Haneke has remained typically tight-lipped about this idea that “the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the son”, but Caché does represent the latest stage in Haneke’s “World War” period and his increasing engagement in global affairs.

cache-hidden-michael-haneke-3.jpgCaché (Hidden), 2005

Before 2000’s Code Inconnu, Haneke’s sights were focused almost exclusively on Austria, with a trio of films (Seventh Continent, Benny’s Video and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance) that he terms his “Civil War Trilogy”, which, along with the trilogy’s epilogue Funny Games, were searing, often brutally violent, indictments of contemporary Austrian society. Finding funding hard to come by for his next project Time of the Wolf (which would eventually be released in 2003), Haneke’s next move was motivated as much by economics as artistic vision. He was approached by Juliette Binoche to make a film in France, the result of which was Code Inconnu. This was a move towards a broader global perspective, with its loosely connected scenes from the different perspectives of an African immigrant, a Bosnian war reporter and an actress.

There is no doubt that this wider perspective, and of course the patronage of such renowned and excellent actors as Binoche, Auteil and Isabelle Huppert (who starred in 2001’s The Piano Teacher) has helped Haneke reach new levels of commercial and critical acclaim. Caché, alongside the slew of awards it won at Cannes, was fêted as film of the week in almost every British broadsheet, and eventually grossed over £1 million in the UK. Despite this newfound success Haneke has made few concessions to his audience. The casting in Caché of Auteil and Binoche, darlings of Europe’s chattering classes, is perhaps a case in point. In a film that is so much about the hidden secrets of the bourgeois, it is typical of Haneke to cast actors whose names on the movie posters will attract exactly the kind of audience who he wishes to make uncomfortable.

Caché may be Haneke’s most conventional film, and at times is as close to a traditional thriller as the director is likely to get, but in common with all the best art, Caché offers no easy answers, and its ending is defiantly ambiguous. Haneke’s replies are almost Beckett-like in the straight bat that he plays to any questions about the meaning or otherwise of his film: “It's up to the audience to decide how to comprehend the film. I'm not a schoolteacher; I'm not interested in giving answers. The one thing I may be able to do is ask more or less interesting questions”. Exactly as it should be.

Peder Clarke is a freelance writer. Caché will be released on DVD in June.