by Allan Fish
(France 2005 115m) DVD1/2
It is not your concern
p Veit Heiduschka d/w Michael Haneke ph Christian Berger ed Michael Hudecek, Nadine Muse m Ralph Rieckermann art Emmanuel de Chauvigny, Christoph Kanter
Daniel Auteuil (Georges Laurent), Juliette Binoche (Anne Laurent), Maurice Benichou (Majid), Annie Girardot (Georges’ mother), Walid Afkir (Majid’s son), Bernard Le Coq (editor), Lester Makedonsky (Pierrot), Daniel Duval (Pierre), Natalie Richard (Mathilde),
There are few more cerebral directors in 21st century world cinema than Michael Haneke, and few more clinical directors in cinema history. His is very much a cinema of unease, disquiet and disturbance, often punctuated by moments of extreme violence, be it physical or emotional, or, on occasion, both. Prior to the release of his masterpiece in 2005, his films were a mixed bag, of which the horrendously cold Funny Games was probably the best of the bunch. Caché was something else entirely, a film of more layers than one of Mrs Bridges’ wedding cakes, and enough discretely subtle nuances and barely noticeable details to satisfy the hardiest of cine-intellectuals. It’s a film Antonioni might make were he working in the present day.
Georges and Anne Laurent are a well-to-do upper middle-class couple living with their twelve year old son in a fashionable suburb of Paris. He works as host on a sort of Gallic equivalent of BBC2’s Newsnight Review, while she works in a prestigious job for a famous publishing company. One day, Anne tells Georges she was left a tape in a shopping bag, showing the outside of their house in the middle of the day and Georges’ leaving for work. Further tapes appear, including one of the house in which Georges lived as a child, all wrapped in increasingly ghoulish childlike drawings of faces spluttering blood. They try to get the police to help, but they see the packages as harmless. It is then up to the couple themselves to get to the bottom of the trouble.
From thinking “whose idea of a joke could it be?” they are soon squabbling and growing ever more threatened by their stalker. The audience is kept on tenterhooks not by the threat, but rather by the threat of the threat. He becomes irrational and defensive, an inherent arrogance coming to the forth, until he admits that the culprit may be a long forgotten figure in his childhood. Here all the disparate plot threads come to a head – wasted, ruined lives, the haunting experiences of childhood, how events in childhood can change your life for better or worse, the essence of voyeurism in the modern age, psychological torture and the invasion of personal privacy. Our protagonists’ lives unravel, slowly but surely, like a large tapestry, revealing a festering cancer beneath that they never even knew existed. One is reminded of the couple torn apart by the Civil War in Bergman’s Shame in that the wife comes to see a facet to her husband that had never before surfaced. A feeling of simmering hostility and anger which is contrasted in the family home with shattering pictures and clips of conflict and terror on the news; they turn the terror of the tapes off but their TV then projects something equally frightening which they pay little attention to. By the end of the film we have been treated to one of the most justifiably famous, jolting shocks in modern cinema, but one which is topped by two haunting final stationery shots. Firstly a flashback to the childhood incident we have presumed was at the heart of the entire business, all the more shocking for being shot, Antonioni-like, in long shot. Yet more alarming still is the final shot of the school entrance over which the credits roll. At first glance, it’s just another still shot reminiscent of those in the tapes, designed to leave one unsettled and querying everything that has gone before. But, like Antonioni’s glimpses of the boat in the distance in L’Avventura, he dares us to look closely, and we see the answer to the riddle, as the Laurents’ son is approached by a figure up the steps who looks remarkably like someone we had already seen. Newsnight Review’s Mark Lawson called it the “first great film of the 21st century.” Substitute the miserly use of the word ‘first’ with a simple ‘a’, and I’ll agree.