Michael Haneke's Cache (Hidden)
Jacobowitz, Florence, CineAction
Michael Haneke's Cache is, as its title suggests, an exploration of what lies beneath the surface, hidden within the bourgeois myths of nationhood, culture, family. It borrows the form of a mystery thriller (not solving all of the enigmas presented or fully satisfying the demands of the genre) using its structure to raise highly politicized, disquieting questions about class and race, morality and accountability, within the home and beyond in the social world.
Cache investigates the privileged hermetic world of the white upper middle class family and in order to do so, takes as its premise the narrative conceit that an outsider is threatening the family. Georges and Anne Laurent/Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche and their son Pierrot/Lester Makedonsky are sent videotapes of, for example, the comings and goings in front of their home, taken by a camera near the premises, or from a car outside of Georges's boyhood house. The surveillance implies an infringement of private space--the realm of the bourgeois domestic world that safeguards its private identity and thus, its security.
The contradiction implicit in bourgeois life is that success is dependent upon one's public image, display and conspicuous consumption, yet at the same time, the home and familial relations are private, and what is released in the social world is carefully monitored. Georges's identity encapsulates the contradiction with all its ironic implications. He is a public figure, a celebrity who hosts a popular talk show on television, a discussion of literature that carries an aura of intellectualism and refinement--high culture in a popular controlled format. He wears a public face by entering homes through his televised appearances. The Laurents are also intensely private people, living in a rarefied world of small at-home dinner parties with choice guests (including Anne's employer, a prominent publisher) who share and appreciate their class and status. Sending Georges and his wife (and later Georges's workplace) videotapes which he and Anne watch on their family television is profoundly ironic--it is an infringement that is delivered in the mode that most characterizes modern communication, that Georges and the public understand best--experiencing a modified version of reality from a safe distance, at home. In addition, the tapes are not distinguished visually from the rest of the film (they are shot in the same style and format, using long sequence shots, often from a fixed position) and this blurring of the boundaries raises epistemological questions regarding how images are read, how reality is validated through the image. Georges has no control over the illicit videotapes and, unlike his television program, cannot mediate or filter what is represented, thus his power is threatened.
The transgression implicit in the tapes--compelling one to view aspects of one's personal life--forces a reassessment and an accounting of actions in order to understand the motives of the aggrieved. Georges is sent on a trajectory against his will, beyond his control. He is also forced to reveal aspects of his life to his wife, to his friends and employer that are typically not shared or unearthed. Georges's secrets slowly emerge. The tapes that are accompanied by crude child-like drawings act as a catalyst that sparks his dreams, his memory, what has been buried and repressed. The tapes and pictures direct him from the present into the past; the images of the outside of his present home in an upper middle-class neighbourhood in Paris, the large ancestral estate in the country, a car-ride to a run down apartment in a working class suburb (on rue Lenin) lead Georges to remember and reevaluate the past, to evoke a childhood incident that reemerges to haunt him in a dream. It concerns an Algerian boy who lived with his parents on Georges's family's estate. He finally reveals to Anne (when the arrival of the tapes compel him to do so) how Majid's parents disappeared, presumably were killed, during the pro FLN demonstrations of October 1961, and that Georges's parents planned on adopting the son left behind. Georges sabotages these plans by maligning the child with false libelous accusations, which his parents accept. He rationalizes his behavior with the contention that he was a child at the time and therefore not accountable. The narrative of sibling rivalry, of the child who fears displacement and ensures his inheritance and position of power and privilege in the family has ancient antecedents in primal Biblical narratives, but in Cache, in contemporary France, the power struggle of family politics is complicated by both race and class.
Cache raises historical stains that not only refuse to disappear (France's notorious oppression of its citizens of North African descent in the 60s) but have reemerged with a vengeance in the new millennium. The question of who is welcome to join the nation and enjoy full rights as citizens is more pressing than ever. (Ironically the news on the TV in Georges and Anne's home covers the usual tensions and violence in the Middle East or India, conveniently not addressing the conflicts at home, in France). France has never promoted multiculturalism or pluralism. Its xenophobic attitude has maintained that citizenship means adopting the dominant culture, but its intolerance of difference contradicts the idea of equal entry in terms of privilege, status and class. France's oppression of its North African emigres and racism is not easily discussed (coincidentally another film at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, Alain Tasma's October 17, 1961, explores these issues. In fact the scene of Majid/Maurice Benichou and his son/Walid Afkir being transported in the back of a police paddy wagon is eerily similar to the reenactments of the events in 1961 in Tasma's film). Cache links the past to the present; these problems remain in the culture. Georges's contentions that he should not be held accountable for actions expressed by a child are contradicted by his behaviour in the present. After leaving the police station (the couple's complaints of harassment fall on deaf ears as there is no evidence of physical damage to body or property), Georges emerges onto the road from between parked cars and is nearly knocked over by a young black man on a bike. He proceeds, in an explosive and rude manner, to berate the young man and almost initiates a fight, which Anne dissipates by partitioning the blame, suggesting that both the cyclist and her husband are at fault. Georges's reaction is not attributed simply to his frustration with the police's indifference; his eruption and lack of civility evidences a racist attitude. It implies a link between his experience of harassment through the tapes and his perception of race and the outsider in French society and culture, undermining the myth of integration, equality and an acceptance of diversity.
Cache exposes the extent to which the bourgeois class safeguard the mythologies that empower it and conceal its dark side. Georges's marriage, evidencing strain, crumbles noticeably under pressure as Georges struggles to maintain an image, refusing to trust his wife with details of his past, at the cost of further estrangement. His reputation is prioritized and honesty is sacrificed (Georges lies to his wife about having visited Majid and quarreled in his home). He cannot admit to elements of his identity and personal history that evidence his moral blemishes. The tape of Georges's discussion with Majid, where manners are peeled away and Majid is treated with contempt, is sent to Georges's workplace. When he is called in to account for its damaging contents Georges at first assumes mistakenly that it is to discuss a new concept for his show. Instead he receives a warning dressed as a favour, reminding him that celebrities can't have their public image tarnished by scandals of any kind. The extent that Georges is determined to conceal that which undermines the image he has so carefully constructed becomes almost absurd (and Haneke manages to balance the tensions) in the scene following Majid's shocking suicide in Georges's presence. Georges returns home and sneaks into his bedroom, calls his wife on his cell phone and asks her to send their guests away. Anne is overwhelmed and at a loss as to how to deal with the awkwardness of having to ask them to leave. They have lost their ability to respond to life without the encumbrance of first having to protect their reputation and social position. It is only when Georges is alone with Majid or his son that he discards the veneer of 'politesse' and becomes threatening, expressing his desire to fight, twice coming close to physical violence.
Ultimately Cache is a study of the tragedy that is the logical end result of bourgeois self-absorption. The Laurents are concerned about their son Pierrot, cheer his victories at his swimming meets, but are in many ways otherwise almost removed from his life and have difficulty communicating, which the parents attribute to the difficulties of adolescence. When Georges shows up unexpectedly to offer his son a ride back from school, Pierrot comments on how unusual the gesture is. He questions his father about the drawing sent to him at school in his father's name, "the card you sent," linking his father to the trangressive intrusions that threaten the family. Pierrot is reluctant to account for his whereabouts, which culminates in his disappearance the night he stays over with a friend failing to tell his parents. When his mother tries to talk to him when he returns the next morning, he seems sullen and angry for reasons he is unwilling to discuss, except to imply that she should ask Pierre, suggesting his awareness of who she was with the evening before and alluding to the possibility of her infidelity. The closeness of the names of Pierre and the son Pierrot suggests Oedipal undertones and Pierrot's resentment at being displaced, as do Anne's comments and denial of any relationship, "Are you jealous? What do you imagine? You've got it wrong, I love you, really, I love you." The parents' ambivalence about their son is expressed in 'jokes'; Anne refers to him in a phone conversation as "a macho prick" adding "I wonder where he gets that from." Pierrot absorbs the tensions that permeate the home without acknowledgement.
Georges's relationship with his mother is also marked by what cannot be openly expressed. When Georges visits his mother and tries to mention the past and specifically the incident with Majid, his mother shuts down, refusing to discuss or remember the painful event. An unhappy memory becomes a forgotten and suppressed one and Georges has learnt this, repeating at various points, "I don't remember." He is denied the one opportunity he seeks to air the past and not surprisingly Georges never consciously admits to any sentiment or responsibility regarding Majid. He refuses to watch the hour or so of the tape he is sent which shows Majid's breakdown and tears following their first meeting. When Majid commits suicide, Georges reads it as his successful attempt to avenge the past and harm him, calling it "a twisted joke".
The children of the two families in Cache have to cope with the legacy they have been handed. Majid's son responds to oppression in a very different manner than his father whose suicide results from despair. He stalks Georges, following him into his workplace, demanding to confront him with the suffering he has caused and the lost opportunities that continue to reverberate. He is disappointed to learn that Georges is not visibly troubled by a bad conscience nor does he accept responsibility. His father's death in Georges's presence has failed to move him or induce remorse. Georges's concerns remain focused on self-preservation; his conscience only surfaces when his guard is let down in his dreams or memory flashes that are visualized, intruding abruptly into the narrative. The final scene with Georges shows him lying down in a darkened room. The shot is linked to one taken in long shot, of a little boy being forcibly removed from his childhood home. The final scene in the film, which follows the dream, is also shot in long shot, from a fixed camera position. Majid's son can be seen coming to Pierrot's school, briefly speaking with him before departing. The next generation, the film suggests, will achieve their ends differently.
Haneke's film is shot in a very controlled, elegant style. The shots are edited precisely in terms of how the spectator is invited to read and understand the film. Haneke is demanding of his audience; for example, crucial details might be imparted in long shot, or camera position and placement will suggest an important narrative element, like the fixed frame used in the scene of Majid's suicide which suggests the scene might be being taped surreptitiously. One must watch carefully and actively, and it is as if Haneke is insisting that films are not discardable entertainment, without denying the hermeneutic pleasure of the mystery thriller. Cache builds upon the tradition of the postwar European art film exemplified by directors like Chabrol and Bunuel (however different in tone) who use the cinema to present serious meditations on the politics of everyday life and the dire need for social change.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Michael Haneke's Cache (Hidden). Contributors: Jacobowitz, Florence - Author. Journal title: CineAction. Issue: 68 Publication date: Winter 2006. Page number: 62+. © 2009 CineAction. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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