It’s the unanswered questions that haunt us

Michael Haneke’s Caché is maddening. It is hypnotic. It is menacing. It is a voyeuristic film, always looking from the outside when the true danger may lie within.

The film opens with a static shot of a relatively non-descript home in Paris. The shot is so still that we almost think we are looking at a picture. It is only when a lone biker passes through the frame that it becomes apparent we are watching the house in real time. Later, when we hear the voices of Georges and Anne Laurent coolly discussing the footage we realize that we are actually watching a video, which had been left on the couple’s doorstep. The non-descript home in the shot belongs to them.

It is easy for Georges to dismiss it. He is the famous host of a book discussion program. (Yeah, they have those in France. Here we have “Keeping up with the Kardashians”) It’s probably just a fan. Anne is a bit more unnerved, but carries on. There is also their teenage son Pierrot, who is aloof and often disappears for long periods of time without telling his parents (that part is universal).

The videos keep coming and are soon accompanied by crude, child-like drawings of violence. Georges cannot understand how someone could get away with this. The shot is from directly across the street. How is it possible that they have never seen anyone? Eventually they receive footage of Georges at his childhood home. He begins to have nightmares which take place at that very same home and involve a young boy cutting off a chicken’s head directly in front of a young Georges. Anne is disturbed. At a dinner party she seeks comfort from a male friend. Could she be having an affair?

This is the film’s true genius. The origin of the tapes gradually becomes far less interesting than their effect on the family and with each one’s arrival we begin to see cracks in the Laurents’ bourgeois facade. The film’s main question shifts from “who is leaving these tapes?” to “why are these tapes being left?” There is a motivation behind them and it lies within the Laurent family.

Eventually, a tape is left which contains walking footage leading up to a nearby apartment. Georges retraces the video’s steps. He accuses the apartment’s owner of being involved. The owner denies it and we believe him, but these two men do know each other. When Georges leaves, the owner breaks down in tears. We find this out when Georges receives another tape.

Haneke continuously piles questions and insinuations on top of each other, one after the other in a manner that eventually lands us squarely in the same shoes as the Laurent family. We feel invaded, confused and afraid. Georges’ world has been violated, and he lashes out in fear and anger, possibly doing greater violence than was done to him. (But then again, possibly not.)

cache final shot

Look closely

Haneke solidifies the film’s lasting impression with its final scene. It is static, much like the opening, but this time it takes place somewhere else and features a fair amount of people milling about. Some are in the foreground with their backs to us. Others are in the background, coming and going. Our eyes dart all over the frame, eventually, possibly, finding two familiar characters. They stop and begin speaking to each other. We have been given no reason to think they might know each other, but there they are. Is it an intimation of conspiracy or of a looming final act of violence? One last question mark in a film filled with them.

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  1. […] I think I was still struggling a bit to find my voice. My first piece for The Idler — “It’s the unanswered questions that haunt us” — was a pretty sloppy mix of review and essay. It wasn’t until I began to focus more on The […]

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