Sunday, January 01, 2006

Guilt is Not a Useless Emotion

Alright. I think I can finally muster the wherewithal to write about Michael Haneke's latest offering, Caché. I saw the film two months ago at the AFI festival. The night was a bustling one, but festivals always are. But I saw the film again this afternoon, and realized that it is certainly the best film of the year. It is difficult for me to write this subjectively, as I am a HUGE fan of Haneke's work. One could even argue that his films changed the way I watched movies. I have known about him since his infamous film The Piano Teacher hit theaters - with a trailer that made it seem like just another Isabelle Huppert film. It left me floored. It concisely presented complex psychological cases that had been the focus of my studies and fascinations. I had never seen anything like it. Now he has a new offering. One that has earned him the Best Director title at Cannes, no less. No less is right.

Caché is not like Haneke's other films. Visually, it best resembles his earliestst works (the Emotional Glacation trilogy) but even here, the comparison pales, as Haneke's eye has become so much more.Well, for lack of a better word, generous. Generous to the viewer, presenting beautifully plain tableaus that do not revel in the excesses allowed by contemporary cinema, but deliberately allow for the amplitude of information to merely exist for us to (perhaps?) digest. Generous, also, to his subjects - which in no way means they are off the hook. Far from it, Auteuil's George is one of the more contemptible characters Haneke has ever depicted, but his actions are quiet and subtly venomousus (most subtly to George who has no idea what repercussions his actions might hold for others involved). And the ever-bland Binoche's Anne has not a shred of self. There's nothing going on in her world (there isn't even an affair when there very well could be), but when George is caught hiding things from her, her noexistentnt world crumbles. And Binoche loves every minute of her "acting" scenes. Haneke's decision to cast the two in the film was impeccable, for not only does it ensure the film easy marketability, but it gives the Laurent family an air of normalcy (and familiarity) that is the riding necessity for the film as a whole. George must be an everyman of sorts for the film to work, but he is the uppercrust every man.

Haneke's dry sense of humor has never been so present. And the complexity of these slight gestures function almost as polarities. For example, a haughty book launch (Anne is a publisher) is depicted in the first hour. Anne is on her cell phone talking to George. Next to her, a pretentious man lists the literary influences of Proust and Baudrillard (to name a few). It is a tedious and boisterous environment that is interrupteded by an abrupt cut to the beheading of a chicken on a tree stump. The image is necessary to the plot's structure (just in case you thought Haneke was throwing in yet another gratuitous animal slaying, cause really, he does love to kill those animals), but also make a direct allusion to the previous scene. Another instance that springs to mind is the transition from the film's other most harrowing scene (which I will not divulge here) to a shot of George at the movies. Not only does Haneke chastiseze George for his want to escape from the horror he has just witnessed, but he also subtly reminds us exactly where we are - the movies.

The real scene here comes at the end of the first act when we are treated to the presence of Annie Girardot (who also played Huppert's controlling mother in Haneke's The Piano Teacher) who takes another turn as George's ill mother. Haneke has never made a more tender scene, and though everything said here is what is not spoken (which is no surprise), the acting is near transcendent. As George rambles on about how fine everything is, the camera holds long and hard on Girardot's face, and from the way she looks at her son, we know all is not right. We know that she senses troubles far greater than even George is aware of. But that she leaves these thoughts mostly unsaid is the apex of the film. Because ultimately Caché is not about what is Hidden, but what is not made visible. In not bringing to light the childhood events that now wrack George with fear (where a less self-satisfied character would feel guilt) he has made the course of the film that much more troubled. It is really a tour de force of a film, and one which could not come at a better time, considering the current political environment right now. Which only makes us fear more the kin-de-George, the child Pierrot, who is far more self satisfied and far better at hiding than his father. This, Haneke reminds us, is our future.

1 Comments:

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