Oct 1, 2006

Cache: Talk About Denial

As beautifully played by the great Daniel Auteil, Georges is everything the French think of themselves: civilized, sophisticated, cultured, softspoken and refined. He's also a major asshole and is in huge denial about it, just like the French have been about their actions in Algiers (and if you ask me, about pretty much everything) for ages. Georges is a TV talk show host. This being France, instead of "My nephew raped his Grandmaw", they talk about books. They are all in love with their brains and their culture and their perfect little society predicated upon those lofty notions of liberté, egalité and fraternité. Georges starts getting spooky tapes of his home being watched for hours on end, and even spookier childlike drawings that intimate some awful violence. He sets out to unravel who is sending this stuff to him. The audience finds out the truth step by step with him, not twenty minutes ahead, like in Match Point, but not behind either. A lot of this movie is shot from his point of view, which makes it very unsettling. He is in the dark, just as the audience, and you sit for two hours giving your brain a major (and very needed) workout. You also sit there in a state of slowly accumulating tension. The way the tension is sustained in Cache is a marvel of economy, like watering a plant with a dropper. Michael Haneke is a director capable of unsettling you with very little. There is no music to make your heart rate go up and signal that something very bad is about to happen. The way the mysterious tapes start unraveling Georges' seemingly contented existence is just a slow, dense piling up of unknowingness, and dread, and fear. When the violence comes, it comes shockingly and abruptly, with no foreshadowing. But Cache is also a moral tale. So we find out that in Georges' life everybody lies. Little everyday lies, big hidden lies. At the same time, the lies of George's past are the same lies that the French nation has been suppressing forever, pretending that tout va bien. To Michael Haneke, the personal IS political. The choices you make dealing with other human beings, particularly if they are from a marginal minority, if they are not one of you, can have devastating consequences that are intimate and universal at the same time. Of the movies dealing with the aftermath of the European colonial catastrophes, the problems that France, England and Germany face today of hostile, unassimilated, segregated populations living in their midst, Cache so far is the best I've seen. It has none of the preachy, didactic tone of liberal mortification. It is an exercise in wringing out the truth behind the smug French self-satisfaction and, by corollary, that of all of Europe. As expected of Michael Haneke, it is a cold, cerebral movie, sharply written, slightly sadistic, (not as horribly sadistic as The Piano Teacher, or worse, the loathsome Funny Games). I have sometimes found his movies to be as manipulative of the audience as Spielberg's but much more perversely. There is a whiff of that here too, as when we are desperately searching for clues that he then deems irrelevant. For instance: why doesn't anybody bother to look where the hidden camera is coming from? As an audience we are trained by the movies to believe that we require a logical explanation for everything, and if there is no logical explanation then there is movie explanation. But Haneke likes to, excuse my French, fuck around with the audience. Cache looks like a thriller, walks like a thriller and quacks like a thriller, so the audience is frustrated at the end, when we are not rewarded for all our detective work as we expect from thrillers. But for Haneke, it's not important whodunit, but it is important, and perhaps more frightening, that there is someone living next to you, watching your every move with hatred in their heart. Now you must think why.

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