Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Caché: What's Hidden is the Ending

We had a good, quiet long weekend here, with a lot of French films: Jeux Interdits (Forbidden Games) and Le Sang des Betes (Blood of the Beasts) on DVD, and Caché (Hidden), with Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil, last night at the Westhampton Theatre.

(Pardon the ambiguous syntax: let me clarify that they were in the movie, not watching it with us. Although I'd really love to hang out and watch great French films with Auteuil or Binoche if the chance ever presented itself. I'll keep you posted.)

Jeux Interdits - Magnificent. If you have a Netflix account, put it at the top of your queue now. More on this later.

Le Sang des Betes - an extra on the DVD of Les yeux sans visage (Eyes without a face), which we watched earlier in the week. Beautiful short documentary on the abbatoirs of Paris. Very black and white, absolutely gorgeous, very French. Exceptionally good way to give up veal and beef (and horsemeat) if you haven't already.

Warning: Spoiler Ahead

I really love Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil as actors, and the trailer for Caché looked great.

Well, the film opened with a long, long, long static shot. And I whispered to my husband, "This movie could either be really good, or turn out to be painfully bad."

The ostensible plot revolves around a stalker who terrorizes Binoche and Auteuil's family, by video taping them and then leaving the tapes on their doorstep.

Part way through the film I whispered to my husband, "I wonder if they are going to pull a weasle and just not explain who is making the tapes."

My powers of foreshadowing appear to be too strong for my own good.

The movie has no ending. It was amazing. It was like they ran out of film and...just stopped.

No resolution. No denouement. No explanations. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

People were snorting in disbelief in the theatre.

On our way out, I said to the woman from the theatre in the lobby, "This one looks to be a short run," and she shook her head and said, "Uh huh. That's what *everybody's* saying."

Now, Binoche and Auteuil put in spectacular performances, in difficult roles, as does Maurice Bénichou in the pivotal supporting role of Majid. Relative newcomer to French film Walid Afkir puts in an excellent turn in the small role of Majid's unnamed son, and is also incredibly good looking. Lately, we've watched Auteuil in a string of frothy French comedies including Après vous (After You), Le bossu (The Hunchback), and Le Placard (The Closet), so it was a particular pleasure to see him stretch his dramatic acting abilities. For reasons I couldn't fathom, the wardrobe department on this film went to great lengths to make the usually gorgeous Binoche look like a frumpy wife...but, despite the shapeless linen sacks she was dressed in, she was still sexy. Maybe frustration with the wardrobe horrors helped her get into character.

This movie does blood effects well. Auteuil's character has flashbacks to childhood memories with a strong theme of blood...and the blood is not over-the-top or gratuitous. In fact, I'd like to think that the late Georges Franju, director of Le Sang des Betes would approve. A violent confrontation takes place late in the film that is one of the most powerful and disturbing scenes I've ever seen in a movie--and it takes place within the confines of the narritive, in fact it is critical to the development of the narrative, while serving to move the plot forward (as much as this plot ever moves).

The movie the emotional equivalent of a trip through a laundry mangler: at the end I felt well wrung. It provides all of the catharsis, high emotion, and violent passion surrogate that a thriller should.

But then it just stops, fairly abruptly, leaving plot lines hanging, set-ups un-paid-off, questions un-answered.

Putting on my dusty Liberal Art Flake (TM) hat, I can be generous and credit writer/director Michael Haneke with making a movie that examines the unreliability of different forms of narrative: Autueil's character is an unreliable narrator of incidents from his childhood; the content of the videotapes is differently interpreted and misconstrued by different audiences within the film; we the theatre audience impose our own faulty interpretations on Haneke's movie. The whole movie can be viewed as a Kafka-esqe or externalization of Auteuil's character's guilt over his childhood and how that guilt manifests in his relationships with the people around him, as if his supressed interior life excapes and takes on an independent existence. (Maybe Gogol-esque would be a better choice of term.) All very po-mo with a dose of French existentialist angst thrown in for good measure.

I am not wedded to conventional or linear narritives. I really enjoy well-executed ambiguity in film and literature, but, I need to believe that the author knows where all the paths lead. If I feel like the author has written him or herself into a corner and then given up...I have little patience with "artistic ambiguity" as an excuse for good writing. In the same way, the long, static shots from the voyeur's video-cam may be an attempt at cinéma vérité, but in the theatre seats it just felt like a self-indulgent absence of editing once the point had been established.

Most of all, I just wish Haneke had invested in even three more minutes of film to tie it all up for us.

All of that being said, if you love Auteuil or Binoche, or if you want to see an truly excellent usage of on-screen blood, there are great things to see in this film. It is just a great shame that all of the great components weren't packaged up to fulfill their potential and make a great film.
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