Code Unknown ★★★

I originally downloaded this as part of "Michael Haneke" week of the 2017 Film School Dropouts challenge, but didn't get around to watching it until this month. There's a big saga at this point, in fact, concerning the seven films I'm watching for Haneke week: I started with The Piano Teacher and hated it, just like all the other Haneke films I had seen up to that point (which includes Funny Games and Time of the Wolf); then inspired by Letterboxd friends who told me to get away from the cartoon violence, I watched Caché and really loved it; then I watched his very first film, The Seventh Continent, and realized why I hated the first three movies so much, because essentially in all of them Haneke is examining the philosophy known as Nihilism, but does it in this very pure and minimalist way in The Seventh Continent that I really admired, but in a flashy manner full of smoke and mirrors in the others (Cannibalism! Incest! Torture! Und so weiter!) that really distract in all those cases from the stripped-down story Haneke was really trying to tell about the gaping black maw in the center of our meaningless, chaotic universe.

So what did I think of my fourth watch of the week, 2000's Code Unknown, widely considered Haneke's "least offensive" movie [roll eyes here]? There's a reason it's known as his least offensive film, because it's the one film he's done that's closest in tone and spirit to all the other dour fine-art European indie filmmakers you can consider his contemporaries; and it turns out that Haneke working in generic dour indie-Euro mode produces exactly what you would expect, yet another interchangeable generic dour indie-Euro film, heavy on the Big Ideas but light on compelling plots, nuanced characters, believable dialogue, and all the other traditional elements of mainstream three-act filmmaking. A scene-hopping ensemble collection of vignettes in the style of Traffic, this is precisely the problem with Code Unknown, that we never stay on one story long enough to get pulled in to the point of caring what happens: there is the middle-aged slightly famous actress (Juliette Binoche*) who is currently shooting a Saw-type psychological horror film; her thuggish teenage son who enjoys terrorizing immigrants; one of the immigrants he terrorizes, a middle-aged Eastern European woman who ends up getting deported back to her war-torn country; and even more subplots I won't go into.

[*And in fact it was the already famous Binoche who got the ball rolling on this film in the first place; after becoming a random fan of Haneke's Funny Games and mentioning to him that she'd love to be in one of his future movies, he wrote this script specifically for her, and got it funded largely on the star power of her being attached to it.]

It' know, it's fine, whatever, but it certainly doesn't feel like a Haneke film; it feels instead like one of those endless clock-ticking snorers that make up the bottom half of the average Cannes or Toronto film festival, not the high-profile projects that get tons of press but the obscure mediocre program-fillers that play at ten in the morning on the outskirts of town for an audience of twenty heavy-lidded EU film critics. If you watch it in this spirit, there are certainly aspects to enjoy about it; but if you approach it with the attitude of, "So, what's the director of Funny Games gonna give me this time?," you're bound to be disappointed.