“I wanted you to be present”
I’m still not quite certain what to think a day after watching Michael Haneke’s acclaimed film Caché. It is at the same time unnerving, confusing, and unabashedly honest. A story about guilt and how we as people cope with it, accept it, or disregard it. We may tell ourselves that we feel nothing, the tragedies in life were not our fault, however, our psyches and emotions can and will get the better of us. If you truly don’t feel responsible, why then, when confronted, do you still act aggressive? Why must you try and defend yourself if you are completely certain you were not the cause? It is a very interesting question that is asked without words here, a question that hangs behind each scene as the plot progresses. Caché becomes all the more intriguing because that plot is completely innocuous—the entire film is one big MacGuffin that is never answered or rectified. You never get to find out who is behind everything, why things have happened, or what kind of lasting effects the events that transpired will have. Instead the story itself is just a tool to show guilt in all its naked glory, to allow us, as an audience, entrance into a world we all know only too well. Whether we know who is seeking “revenge” or not, guilt is always only about you and how you let it affect your life.
The film revolves around a couple living a good life in France—successful, well known, and loving parents of a school-aged boy. Their world gets turned upside-down when they begin to receive VHS tapes showing the outside of their home; static shots that go on for hours, showing them as they come and go. The mystery escalates as crude child-like drawings come packaged with subsequent videos as well as sent singularly through the mail. These images depict either a stick figure head with red blood exiting its mouth or a chicken with red blood covering its neck. Both Anne and Georges Laurent appear to be completely surprised and confused about what is happening, however, they are not truthful to each other. With the police unwilling to help until an actual attempt at violence is done, Georges decides to take matters into his own hands. After a video sent shows his old childhood home and another the way to a run-down apartment flat, he begins to guess at what it all means. Memories of an event from when he was six start to crop up into his mind and speculation begins to manifest theories on what it all means.
These memories and dreams are my favorite aspect of the film. Before we know what they are, Haneke decides to cut short vignettes into the story at hand. We will be watching the Laurents in their home and all of a sudden be transported to a dark room wherein sits a young boy with blood in his mouth. The moments are unsettling and completely disjointed from the rest of the visuals … at least until the story continues on and the past is brought to light. Georges needs to cope with what occurred in his youth; he needs to reconcile his soul on whether lies he told—like any six year old who’s autonomy is being threatened in the home with a new sibling—ruined the life of another man, someone he hasn’t thought about or seen in decades. Whomever is behind the videos, whether someone involved with that incident or not, has uncovered this hidden guilt inside of Georges and now he must battle it, discovering for himself how deep the feelings go.
It is a tough film to discuss because, although you never find out who is orchestrating everything, the course of events will ruin your comprehension on what the Laurents are feeling. Daniel Auteuil and Juilette Binoche are both fantastic portraying a terrorized couple that slowly begin to realize what is happening and start to keep secrets from each other. This gets into the question of guilt again, how one can feel ashamed about his actions and, even though telling the other about it won’t do any harm, can’t do so. Sometimes it is easier to hide what could be important until absolutely necessary. Thinking back after so many years, with your age and experiences now weighing in, can have horrible effect on your mind. Something that seemed harmless as a child might become catastrophic as an adult because you now understand the consequences of those actions. The opposite is true as well, something we see with their son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). He is a young boy who may see phone calls and signs of affection between adults and leap to the conclusion of an affair, not comprehending platonic love between peers. Everything is relative to what state you are in at the time.
Haneke is the master at crafting stories that make you think for days afterwards, sometimes without ever coming up with a conclusion on what occurred. He makes sure to show the audience everything as raw as possible, utilizing long takes and static set-ups. Almost every scene commences with a still composition showing action occurring within the frame. Sometimes these moments become a videotaped visual to be rewound and fast-forwarded, other times they allow the camera to pull back and move, following live action. With such little camera movement, we are allowed to experience it all as a voyeur, spying on the hidden moments of these people’s lives. We as viewers begin to create a feeling of guilt ourselves, experiencing moments as a witness, knowing the truth whether the people involved decide to lie about the incident we just saw to those they love.
Caché is a very powerful film that warrants multiple viewings. I would also recommend checking out the interview with Haneke on the DVD to shed some light on his motivations. With wonderful performances—I must mention both Maurice Bénichou and Walid Afkir without saying whom they play, as that revelation should be uncovered while you watch—you will become engrossed with the story, waiting with anticipation to see where it all goes. By watching these people and their emotions, you will start to understand yourself. The ones who feel they hold no blame are so caught up in that need for innocence that they will do whatever it takes, without listening to those on the other end, while the ones who are innocently brought into the mess are calm and collected, unknowing what is truly at stake. Rather than seeing that composed demeanor as a sign of innocence, we get even angrier because we believe they are laughing at us smugly, making us squirm even more. Our minds are complex and make us do things we may not understand until it is too late. Some will be able to go home at night and sleep, unconcerned, while others will be left open-eyed, unable to bear the nightmares they know will come.
And that ending—a seemingly unimportant scene without context to the rest of the film, until you look closely and notice the two sons meeting and talking in the bottom left of the screen. What could they be talking about? Is this a videotape of a conversation that occurred earlier? Perhaps even the planting of the seed that Pierrot’s mother could be having an affair? It could be just one more piece to the puzzle, carefully orchestrated by the man linked to Georges past. Or maybe it happens in sequential order. Georges was going to bed early and Pierrot was not yet home from school, so potentially this occurs as the final event, one last overlap of these two families. We will never know exactly what it is as no words can be heard and nothing comes afterwards. It is just one more flourish from Haneke, making the audience feel guilt at seeing something and being unable to warn the Laurents that the nightmare may not be over after all.
Caché 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½