Academic journal article CineAction

In Search of the Code Inconnu

Academic journal article CineAction

In Search of the Code Inconnu

Article excerpt

Prefatory

Last January I headed (rather than conducted) a graduate course on "World Cinema Around the Millennium" in which we watched and discussed, over the twelve weeks, a dozen films by as many directors from Europe, Asia and the Middle East. I count it a great success but can claim little credit for this. During the months prior to and overlapping with the course I was deluged with argent work, complete with deadlines (writing a new monograph, preparing an expanded edition of a previous book, with all the resultant chores of proofreading, indexing, stills selection, etc.), and was unable to complete the intensive and extensive preparation I had anticipated. In our discussions of films (some of which I'd seen only a couple of times) my students frequently corrected my mistakes and pointed out details I'd missed, but without ever humiliating me (though I thought at times I deserved it). Code Inconnu was one of the twelve films. I cannot now identify the students who helped me develop new insights, so this is a general 'Thank you' note to the entire class (several of whom have become my personal friends), and an acknowledgement of the collaborative nature of a course that I enjoyed enormously and from which I learnt a great deal.

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During the past several years I have developed a very strong commitment to, and partial identification with, the films of Michael Haneke, decisively confirmed by Code Inconnu. I share with his films a sense of despair with our civilization, its future, and ultimately with the human race itself, its seemingly impossible and fundamental contradictions: a full knowledge that I belong to (and have been formed by) that civilization and that race, am implicated in its corruption, can never be anything else, must acknowledge my place and inevitable partial complicity in its tangle of drives and tensions and unresolvable conflicts as we rush headlong towards our potential self-destruction. I feel that the very worst of the various end-of-civilization, end-of-life-on-the-planet scenarios are probably correct, yet love human life (and a limited number of actual humans), not to mention the 'innocent' animal and vegetable life that we shall drag to destruction with us, so much that I cling on passionately to any vestige of hope I can find. This (it seems to me) is what Code Inconnu (perhaps the most important film of the past ten years) is about. I have come to identify with Haneke up to the inevitable point where I must recognize that I lack his integrity, his concentration, his dedication, above all his sheer intelligence--because Code Inconnu is one of the most intelligent films ever made. It is the most necessary of his films to date, yet it has received less attention than the works that surround it. The reason for this is clear enough: it lacks their 'sensational' aspects, hence leaves no opening for the attacks with which those too deeply disturbed by his work defend themselves from its implications: the family who commit communal suicide in The Seventh Continent, the teenage murderer of Benny's Video, the young sadists of Funny Games, the extreme masochist of La Pianiste. We cannot say of Code Inconnu 'I am not like that, 1 wouldn't do those things, it doesn't apply'. The previous Haneke film to which it most closely relates (thematically, and in its multiple intersecting narratives), 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, is also among his most neglected, and for the same reason.

1. STYLE

The very striking stylistic strategies of Code Inconnu are crucial to its significance. Leaving aside the framing device (the deaf-mute children trying to communicate), the film consists of 42 sequences, of which all but four are sequence-shots without cuts. Of those four, two are the photo-montages of Georges' work in foreign countries, and one is the sequence of the shooting of Anne's film (a version of The Collector), shot from the viewpoint of the master camera on the set, the one cut being a cut within the diegesis. …

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