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. …