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Caché (2005) Review: Buried Memories Resurface!

Two album cover images with blood splatter in the background

In Michael Haneke’s film “Caché,” a Parisian couple’s comfortable life is disrupted when they receive mysterious videotapes that gradually unravel a hidden history of guilt and violence.

Haneke’s Films: Criticisms and Distinctive Features

Michael Haneke stands out as one of the most striking and original directors of contemporary European cinema with his films that are described as realistic, disturbing, and shocking. In Haneke films, he generally criticizes the crises of modern European society, the inevitable communication problems and alienation of consumerist society, the decay of bourgeois ideology accompanied by corrupt values, the repressive, directive and surveillance effects of the media on social life, and the presentation of violence and the use of violence. Haneke’s clearly visible political and ideological attitude has become the distinctive feature of his films.

One of the basic qualities in Haneke’s films is an irrepressible desire to question the viewer. His camera, which moves around in a world dominated by emotional numbing, indifference, and ignoring, ultimately leaves us alone with our restlessness by making us feel that the world we are immersed in is not actually fiction, that what we see on the screen is the real witness, perhaps even the accomplice of us.

Plot Summary of “Caché”

In the 2005 film Caché, which is the subject of this article, Haneke takes us into the seemingly ordinary and respectable life of an intellectual French bourgeois family. Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne Laurent (Juliette Binoche) and their son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky) lead a peaceful, problem-free, and sterile life, until they receive hidden camera footage and a series of disturbing drawings that upend their lives.

House with surveillance cameras from Caché (Hidden) movie.

The film opens with a long single take shot of the exterior of the family’s home. For several minutes, we see nothing striking or noteworthy, creating a sense of anticipation and signaling that we are about to watch a film by a director who strives for realism. As we continue to watch the film, we don’t encounter anything unusual, ugly, or suspicious. Georges is a successful television producer, and Anne works for a publishing company. They have a happy marriage, a beautiful home, and an adorable child. They appear to be a perfect family, and we cannot understand why the director (or the person sending the footage) would have any issues with them. However, as the film progresses, we realize that the footage that disturbs the Laurent family’s peace is meant to resurrect and question some unpleasant memories of the past. Georges, who perceives this footage as a threat to his life, is forced to confront his childhood memories and recall Majid, the son of an Algerian family who worked in his family’s home. After Majid’s parents were killed in a violent protest in Paris on October 17, 1961, he was sent to an orphanage due to some events that Georges caused.

Haneke’s Criticism of French Society

Haneke deliberately chose and targeted this bourgeois-intellectual family in Caché, which he describes as a story about personal guilt and denial, and more broadly, about the French occupation and colonialism in Algeria. He alludes to the forgotten or denied past of not only this specific family but also of the entire society. He sharply criticizes the indifference of the French society towards facts like exploitation, occupation, and genocide that have penetrated the entire society, through the upper-class intellectual elites who are expected to instill social responsibility and raise awareness.

Boy holding an ax about to cut off a rooster's head

Georges’ “ignoring” attitude towards Majid is consistent with the exclusionary attitudes of the West towards those who are not like them, in other words, towards the lower-class immigrants. Georges’ approach of avoiding and continuing his “blemish-free” life in peace, rather than trying to solve the problem, is similar to the West’s view of immigration and immigrants as a source of their own security threat and “discomfort” rather than a result of their own expansionist policies. Additionally, the film criticizes the same kind of indifferent and forgetful attitudes of Western societies towards wars in the Middle East. One of the most concrete moments that conveys this indifference and isolation is the scene where Georges and Anne talk about their bills, their son, and their problems without even looking at the open and forgotten television in the background showing footage of occupation and war.

Examination of Intolerance and Insincerity

Anne Laurent and Georges Laurent on the phone in a scene from an unknown source.

The film also does not hesitate to examine the intolerance and insincerity that prevail among all people, whether distant or close, in addition to the Western attitude of ignoring those who are not like them. Indeed, Georges yelling at a young black man at work can be interpreted as an expression of his suppressed intolerance and hatred. On the other hand, his hiding of events and memories that he wants to leave behind even from his closest family members can also be shown as a manifestation of the alienation and emotional distance that even the most intimate relationships display.

Georges Laurent arguing with a black man

According to Haneke, who prefers static and long shots in his cinematic preferences, these shots are aesthetic tools that provide the audience with the opportunity to stop, think, and comprehend what they see in an environment where everything is presented, dismissed, and consumed quickly through mass media, especially television. The plot should encourage the viewer to form opinions based on what they see by bringing cinematic time as close to real time as possible, rather than being a tool that manipulates the audience.

Haneke’s Emphasis on Comprehension of Truth

In fact, the director’s emphasis becomes much clearer when the opening and ending scenes of the film are taken into account: the extended shot of the clean-looking and uneventful street and Pierrot’s school indicates that it leaves the comprehension of the truth behind what is visible entirely up to the viewer. We can say that Haneke also tries to draw attention to the difference between “what is seen” and “what is real.” As we begin to scratch off the veneer of our family’s bright and seemingly flawless life, we gradually discover the truth that stains the conscience beyond what is visible. Haneke, who argues that films should not entertain the audience but rather shake them, doesn’t hesitate to make the viewer uncomfortable and disturb their peace with his unique style.

Dozens of young students leaving school.

If the alienation and desire to isolate oneself from “others” that is intertwined with suppressed violence and intolerance in industrial and welfare societies (which are also frequently addressed in Haneke’s films) is examined comprehensively within its historical framework and ideological roots (which will be the subject of another article), the philosophical and political implications of the subtext in Caché’s story, which emerges as a personal conscience questioning and rejection, can be perceived more clearly. We have before us a cinema of a director who does not hesitate to lay bare the material and spiritual conditions of the culture he comes from, in a way that is unapologetically partisan. In a world where some have something to lose and some do not…

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Last modified: September 24, 2023