Published Feb 01, 2006Michael Haneke used to be a bitter old Austrian who ground familiar axes about bourgeois alienation. But somewhere around Time of the Wolf he ceased to be obvious and started going after real targets, and his new film, Caché, is the brilliant end result.
The film features Daniel Auteuil as a literary chat show host who's been sent anonymous tapes of the outside of his luxury home. The attached childish pictures allude to the Algerian boy he betrayed years before, and as Auteuil frantically tracks down the phantom cameraman, he rubs shoulders with his now-grown-up victim and finds himself as unrepentant with the man now as when he was a child.
The film deals with France's buried Algerian memories (including a home-grown massacre now swept under the rug) in the manner of a conscience that fails to develop our hero is well aware of his responsibility to his former playmate and chooses to repress the memory, much as societies move on without dealing with the guilt of their brutal pasts. Haneke is ruthless in his aesthetics, using negative space and limited cutting to smother his protagonist in an un-shifting image that won't take his remarks seriously; you've never seen so much enamel white in your whole life, and it brilliantly suggests the way that our hero's world is wiped clean in relation to his shattered victim.
Though the moments of actual violence are few, they're more shattering than the total running time of most hand-wringing Hollywood problem pictures. Unlike them, Haneke is interested in the shape of denial and the legacy of brutality rather than mere physical jeopardy. It's a triumph not to be missed, worth its director's prize at Cannes and marks an auspicious way to start to the new film year. (Mongrel Media)