“Ma gang de sales!”
I’m walking from the Ex-Centris to the Voir office, still reeling from “Caché”, and suddenly it’s like a scene from the film is playing before my eyes again, right there on Ste-Catherine Street.
“Vous viendrez pas dans mon pays pour [indistinct]”
There’s this old white asshole picking up his bicycle, yelling at three Arab men in a car. I didn’t see what caused the confrontation, I’m assuming the car hit the bike or the other way around. In any case, the dude on the bike is yelling a bunch of racist nonsense while the Arab guys are staying remarkably calm and dignified.
There are different ways to interpret “Caché”, as is the case with every Michael Haneke film, but the kind of misdirected racism I witnessed is definitely part of the picture. It can be taken as an allegory for France’s “hidden” colonialist past in general and the ghosts of October 17th, 1961 in particular. Basically, the French have been fucking Algerians in the ass for years and now they suddenly feel threatened by them. It’s like, how dare they resent us for mistreating them all these years?
On a superficial level, this is the story of a couple of well-off BoBo intellectuals (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) who start receiving mysterious tapes containing surveillance-like footage of the front of their house. Through the film, they follow various leads to find out who’s harassing them and other worrisome events occur that may or may not be related to that, notably involving their young son (who has a Jean-Claude Van Damme poster in his room, so he’s clearly disturbed). And then… Well, not only can’t I reveal the final twists but, even if I did, it wouldn’t explain much anyway. Answers aren’t the point; the questions are.
Haneke won a well-deserved Prix de la mise en scène at the 2005 Cannes Festival for his deceptively simple work here. “Caché” is practically all ominous establishing shots, with static camerawork, minimal cutting and no musical score, yet it can be an incredibly suspenseful watch. It’s all about the danger we don’t see, the danger we don’t hear, the “phantom menace” to use an expression associated to a movie of diametrically opposed style. On top of the tension brought by the tapes, the film reeks of marital tension and racial/class tensions, and it all comes through without any overt filmmaking trickery. The elevator scene with Walid Afkir is a particularly riveting example of doing more with less.
In the leads, Auteuil and Binoche never strike a false note. They fully commit to playing mostly unsympathetic characters. In a conventional thriller, we would feel bad for the family being terrorized, but these are boring pompous farts – we WANT them to get shaken out of their bourgeois apathy. They have to face the problems in front of them, not to send them away or hide them deeper but, hopefully, to open up a dialogue. As should we all.