Michael Haneke, 2005
Caché is about a well-to-do French talk show host named
Georges who begins to receive anonymous — 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
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.
(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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