A Hidden Place Called "Guilt"

Michael Haneke, 2005

My films are intended as polemical statements against the American "barrel down" cinema and its dis-empowerment of the spectator. They are an appeal for a cinema of insistent questions instead of false (because too quick) answers, for clarifying distance in place of violating closeness, for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus.
- Michael Haneke

The other night I was contemplating on what film I should rewatch: The Exorcist or Caché. Le exorcist ou Caché. The overrated one or the underseen one. I wasn't really in the mood for something Hollywood, so I decided to ditch The Exorcist for Caché.

Haneke's 2005 film is an atmospherically gripping journey towards guilt, a place where most people don't like to get into.

Georges and Anne Laurent — played by aquiline-nosed Daniel Auteuil and an amazingly unglamorous Juliette Binoche — are a bookish middle-class couple terrorized by a bunch of videotapes sent by a stalker. The first videotapes contain extensive static shots of the Laurents' house façade.

The subsequent videotapes contain shots of Georges' past: his childhood home and a flat where the object of his hidden guilt dwells. The videotapes, along with the arcane childish drawings that come with it, serve as a puzzle that the Laurents — Georges to be exact — have to solve.

So who's the stalker? That's what the Laurents intend to find out. Anne initially suspects that the stalker might be one of Georges' fans. (He hosts a book review TV show, so he's practically a celebrity.) The couple eventually suspects their angst-ridden 12 year-old son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). Finally Georges suspects his childhood acquaintance, Majid (an excellent Maurice Bénichou). Georges is later revealed to be Majid's frenemy.

Georges is so convinced that Majid is the stalker. He thinks Majid is stalking/terrorizing his family out of revenge. Revenge for what? And what makes Georges so sure that Majid is the stalker?

If you're as determined as the Laurents to find out who the stalker is, you won't be able to appreciate Caché; the film doesn't spoon-feed the answer to the audience. You have to find it out for yourself. Besides I don't think Haneke intended the film to be a whodunit movie. Caché is not about who-is-sending-the-videotapes. This isn't a detective movie.

The videotapes are merely a plot device, a MacGuffin to be exact. Think of it as the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Or Nick Fisher in Lucky Number Slevin. Or the canned pineapples in Chungking Express. (Or even Channing Tatum in any movie he is in.) It might seem like the "main event" but it's actually not. The main purpose of the videotapes is to act as the key into Georges' concealed guilt.

Auteuil's Georges is full of pride and somewhat condescending, yet beneath his patronizing façade lies a guilty conscience. If you're not that familiar with French cinema, you probably haven't heard about this Auteuil guy, and I think that works well for the film; imagine having Gerard Depardieu or Jean Reno or Vincent Cassel or any French-Hollywood actor as Georges, would the audience focus on the character or the actor? It's not like I don't find those guys talented, but most audiences would think that they are just some French actor in a French-language film. So far Auteuil has only been in two English-language films, both of them are not made in Hollywood. He is kinda like a stranger to the Hollywood-educated audience, and that certain amount of anonymity gives Auteuil's character a sense of mystery—one of the film's assets.

Daniel Oo-toy et Juliette Binosh! :P

Some nine years before she started ruining her then-impressive filmography — although I think the mess started long before the god-awful Godzilla; it all started to go downhill when she decided to go Hollywood — Binoche is not very Binoche in Caché; by that I mean she consciously lets go of her celebrity and succeeds in portraying an everyday person that is Anne Laurent. Binoche is almost a supporting character in the film, kinda like Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut minus the "I'm-a-celebrity" attitude.

Maurice Bénichou gives a simple yet captivating performance. His character, the tragic Majid, is only a supporting personage to Auteuil's lead character; yet Bénichou was able to grasp the very heart of his character. The character actor made me feel sorry for Majid. Few actors are able to fully transform into their character the way Bénichou did. Awesome.

French cinema legend Annie Girardot — Isabelle Huppert's mom in Haneke's La pianiste — makes a special appearance as Georges' mom. Her screen time is short but Miss Girardot is memorable in her role. It's as if you can feel her disappointment over the Majid issue.

Caché is immersive, just like most of Haneke's films. With his excellent use of lengthy static shots — one of the director's trademarks — Haneke succeeds in achieving a quietly eerie mood throughout the film. The film's low-key ambiance makes Georges' revelations very startling.

As for the music? There's none. Most of Haneke's films have no musical score, which I think is truly magical. It's rare that a film can get you hooked despite the absence of music. (Clap clap clap!) Amazing.

Haneke's minimalist approach to filmmaking makes the Austrian director one of the most fascinating auteurs in the history of cinema. A fascinating filmmaker who makes fascinating films. (Keyword: fascinating.)

Most of Haneke's films lack the "usual ingredients" of a movie: exhibitionist close-ups, predictable editing, mood-inducing soundtrack, and celebrity-looking actors (Haneke has the talent in deglamorizing his actors); yet despite the scarcity of those ingredients, Haneke is still able to get your attention, sit down, and listen to his story.

Haneke once said: My favourite film-maker of the decade is Abbas Kiarostami. He achieves a simplicity that's so difficult to attain.

"...achieves a simplicity that's so difficult to attain." That's exactly how I would describe Haneke as a filmmaker.

And Caché's poster perfectly tells the film's story. Almost everything — including the film's title but except the cast and crew's names — is hidden in white, a "comfortable" color that parallels the Laurents' comfortable life. Then there sprays the blood, which I think represents Georges' dark secret that brings chaos to the Laurents' cozy existence.

(Photo courtesy of its owner/s. I don't own or claim to own this photo.)

I remember myself looking around and see if there's somebody filming me as I watch the film. Indeed, Caché is a scary non-horror movie. It has no possessed child, rotating heads, green puke, or any showy special effects. What it has is silent creepiness, Haneke's film has the power to haunt its audiences in a subtle yet lingering manner.

Caché requires an adequate amount of patience, understanding, and attention to detail. The esoteric film mostly caters to a specific audience. But that "specific audience" can be anybody — anybody who is willing to think for themselves, without the help of a movie that does the thinking for the audience.

Wanna scare yourself? Try watching Caché alone at around 2AM, lights off. Mwhahaha...

WARNING: The film has unforeseen gory scenes.

Trailer for Caché:

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