Michael Haneke, 2005

#5, 2005 Skandies

Caché is about a well-to-do French talk show host named Georges who begins to receive anonymous videotapes — static shots of his house, basically hourlong surveillance videos — accompanied by notes containing childlike drawings of scenes of violence. As the harassment escalates to phone calls and different videos, such as one of his childhood home, he comes to suspect that the perpetrator might be the Algerian orphan his parents had thought about adopting when Georges was a boy.

I'm sure the universities love this one. You've got postcolonialism, as Georges's attempts to downplay his mistreatment of his foster brother parallel French complacency about the country's brutal treatment of the Algerian people, and by extension, other Westerners' complacency about their own countries' colonial misadventures. You've also got all the usual stuff about the gaze, as you never know when a new scene starts whether you're looking at an actual movie scene or a clip from one of the videotapes; the implicit message is that if the "you can't see me because I'm a stalker" vibe of the tapes is so creepy, doesn't that make the viewer, who watches without being seen, equally creepy?

Then you have the way the movie plays with expectations. It starts off as a pretty gripping thriller — I have no idea where the complaint from some critics that it was slow-paced came from, because I've seen some slow-paced movies recently (cough Tropical Malady cough) and this one is quite snappy at least by comparison. Who's the stalker? What does he want? The clues all seem to point to the Algerian guy, but he seems awfully sincere when he denies having anything to do with the tapes. And then...

(spoilers for this and Zodiac)

...the movie just kind of peters out. We never definitively find out who was responsible for the tapes, and the plot still seems to be unfolding when the credits roll. Here are a couple of reactions to this, chosen more or less at random:

  • Roger Ebert: "When Caché played at Cannes, some critics deplored its lack of a resolution. I think it works precisely because it leaves us hanging. [...] If the film merely revealed in its closing scenes who was sending the videos and why, it would belittle itself. "

  • Jeremy Heilman: "Haneke's method is to use the audience's knowledge of generic conventions against them in order to create an expectation in the viewer that is never fulfilled. The tantalizing hints that the director gives throughout only further stoke our determination to solve a mystery that may not even have a solution within the film."

I disagree, and here's why. Last winter I saw Zodiac, a movie that initially seems as though it's going to be about a serial killer and eventually turns out to be about how an amateur sleuth's life is destroyed by his obsessive need to crack the case. Like Caché, it's an unresolved mystery. The difference is that the Zodiac killer was real — and even if he hadn't been, he was real within the world of the movie. That makes the protagonist's obsession understandable. There is an answer to his mystery. Someone killed all those people. He doesn't have enough information to solve the mystery, but if he could just get one more piece of the puzzle, find the right clue in the police archives, or, or magically go back in time and plant a camera in the right place... and there's your uneasiness, there's your frustration, there's everything Haneke's going for.

But the mystery of Caché is quite different. See, like the guy in Zodiac, I want to know whodunnit. I don't have enough information, so I want to get more. And at that point I realize that, unlike the guy in Zodiac, I can't get more information, because the world of the story only exists in the film, and so I already have all the information that can possibly be acquired. Therefore I don't feel uneasy or frustrated, because I know I'm not missing anything. I even know the answer: no one left the videotapes, because there were no videotapes. None of this ever really happened. By ending the film this way, Haneke reminds us that we have been watching an artifice.

The word caché means "hidden." I am reminded that one year in college I forgot to get my roommate a birthday present, so I told him I'd hidden it on campus and sent him clues to its location. Of course, the clues didn't actually add up, because I had to stall for a few weeks until I could get back to Berkeley and stash a gift certificate somewhere. So he was looking for something he thought was hidden, but actually didn't exist. Seems to me that this movie is sort of the same deal.

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