CACHÉ (HIDDEN) (director/writer: Michael Haneke; cinematographer: Christian Berger; editors: Michael Hudecek/Nadine Muse; cast: Daniel Auteuil (Georges Laurent), Juliette Binoche (Anne Laurent), Maurice Bénichou (Majid), Lester Makedonsky (Pierrot Laurent), Annie Girardot (Georges’s mother), Bernard Le Coq (Georges’s editor), Walid Afkir (Majid’s son), Daniel Duval (Pierre), Nathalie Richard (Mathilde), Denis Podalydès (Yvon), Aïssa Maïga (Chantal); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Margaret Menegoz/Veit Heiduschka; Sony Pictures Classics; 2005-France/Austria/Germany/Italy-in French with English subtitles)
“Though it fails to deliver as a thriller, it succeeds reasonably well as an unpleasant but brilliant social polemic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Austrian-born 63-year-old writer-director Michael Haneke (“Funny Games”/”The Piano Teacher”) now divides his time between Vienna and Paris. His gripping new thriller is creepy and vague, not meant to be either pleasing or lucid; though it’s brilliantly provocative in presenting its hidden political agenda as an afterthought. It refers to the angst by the middle-class over Arab terrorism. Caché has a video look as it was shot in high-def video, which fits in well with its high tech surveillance story. It was not possible for me to like a single character in the film, as the director has it especially in for the characters his stars Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil superbly portray in an understated fashion–a persecuted liberal intellectual couple; while their tormentor illicits no great sympathy either as he’s marvelously played by Maurice Bénichou, a second-generation Arab living in a shabby apartment in Paris with his angry grown son (Walid Afkir). Both are pictured as polite but nevertheless menacing shadowy figures not afraid to die for their cause, who may or may not be implicated in sending anonymous threatening tapes to Georges.

When a plastic bag containing a videocassette taken by a hidden surveillance camera from supposedly across the street is dropped on the Paris gated townhouse doorsteps of a bland TV book-chat show host named Georges (Daniel Auteuil), his forlorn book editor wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) and their sullen 12-year-old son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky), their comfortable bourgeois life is thrown into turmoil as the mysterious tapes eerily record their comings and goings and cause them a great deal of tension. Soon other tapes follow at home and in Georges’ workplace, and are this time accompanied by a ghastly child-like drawing of a violent portrait. After receiving more tapes that this time show his childhood home, Georges believes he can trace the videos to an Algerian named Majid (Maurice Bénichou) he had a run in with when both were children. It leads Georges in his lone investigation to confront the now same aged Majid he hasn’t seen since he was 6, since the police refuse to help because no crime was committed. Majid’s parents worked as farmhands on Georges’ parents’ estate outside of Paris and when they were killed in an Algerian demonstration in Paris where the police drowned some 200 Algerians in 1961 (which introduces the film’s intended aim of trying to reach for a political allegory on the French-Algerian War to explain the current unrest between natives and immigrants), Georges’ parents wanted to adopt the orphan but Georges not wanting him as a stepbrother told lies about him and instead Majid was sent to an orphanage.

Haneke uses this opaque guilt-ridden story to raise unanswerable questions about such worldly and personal things as events from the personal and historical past coming back to haunt one’s conscience, the breakdown in society of law and order, the problem of dark skinned immigrants fitting into their adopted European country, the increasing tension over Arab-European relationships, racism, celebrity, family discords, and social responsibility. It’s all unsettling, filled with undue venom and rage; a film about collective guilt that is in its glory when it’s shocking and leaves the viewer gasping. And, it ends in an enigmatic way with a long take shot of a school’s front steps during recess that instead of clearing things up only invites further thought, more unease and more scratching of one’s head. Though it fails to deliver as a thriller, it succeeds reasonably well as an unpleasant but brilliant social polemic.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”