Monday, November 13, 2006

Hidden in plain sight

Cache (Hidden), directed by Michael Haneke (France, 2005).


I watched this movie the other night, and it really got me thinking. It's an interesting thriller about a semi-famous French TV personality whose family is sort-of stalked by somebody who seems to have a vendetta against him. Somebody starts leaving videotapes on their doorstep, and the tapes are just hours of video of the front of their house. There's nothing significant that happens on the tapes; they seem to simply be a message that they are being watched. Some of the tapes come wrapped in paper with what look like a child's drawings of a person with blood coming out of his mouth. Then the members of the family (Georges (Daniel Auteuil), Anne (Juliette Binoche), and their teenage son, Pierrot) start getting postcards with similar drawings at work or school. It all seems really worrying, but when they go to the police, they are told nothing can be done unless the "stalker" turns violent or threatening. Then different tapes start showing up that seem to point to a connection to Georges' childhood. Long-held secrets are revealed, and the marriage and family relationship is tested. In the end, we're not sure exactly what happened or who the culprit was. It's definitely a movie that could stand future viewings.

The style of the film is amazing. The viewer is really put in the role of the voyeur. All during the film, we're not sure if we are watching the goings-on of the family, or one of the tapes. There are long scenes of the exteriors of buildings that sometimes turn out to be the tapes, but other times turn out to be characters entering or exiting. It's very offputting. I've read some reviews that compare the style to David Lynch's films, and it seems appropriate (if a bit less weird and surreal).

There's one aspect of the plot that I wanted to discuss, but it requires *SPOILERS* (ah, the blog's first spoiler warning. How annoying.) from here on out. The childhood incident that seems to influence the stalker seems very significant. It turns out that Georges' parents tried to adopt an Algerian boy named Majid after his parents (Majid's father worked for Georges' father) were killed in a protest. The tapes lead Georges to meet up with Majid, and he thinks Majid is behind them and it is meant to be some sort of blackmail, although Majid denies any knowledge of them. Later, it seems that Majid's son is perpetrating the scam, although he also denies it later in the film. After interrogation from his wife, Georges admits that his parents tried to adopt Majid, but Georges (who was six years old at the time) was jealous and told lies, claiming that Majid was coughing up blood, which led them to have Majid taken away to a hospital, and presumably an orphanage. Anyway, one Amazon review I read said this is a commentary on Algerian/French relations, but it seemed to me to be a metaphor of sorts for the West's relations with the Middle East. After causing problems in the region, the West tries to make good. It doesn't work out due to internal conflicts about what should be done or if we should be doing anything, and the Middle East ends up worse off than before the West meddled. Later generations in the Middle East hold a grudge, believing that the West cheated their parents out of "the good life", and begin to terrorize the later generations of the West. I don't know if this is just me projecting my feelings about global politics onto this film, but it was what I was thinking about when I watched it. The ambiguity at the end of the film could even support the idea that nobody really knows who is to blame for current problems. The stalker/terrorists could be somebody else who is using the past as an excuse to cause problems. I don't know. But like I said, it really made me think.

To summarize, it's a good movie, and I would recommend it. It's very French though, so I'm sure some would find it slow moving and boring. You might not get any symbolism out of it like I did, but even without that baggage, it's an interesting thriller that will have you thinking about it for a while to come.