Caché ★★★★

For a film director, Haneke sure makes it seem like he dislikes cinema. Or perhaps more specifically, what cinema evokes in people. In Funny Games he plays with our desensitized craving for violence and nudity by stripping us of that fetishisation and instead focusing on the often concealed result of those actions, and in Code Unknown he plays with our expectations of scenarios through cinema; how tropes are just that, and how real life and cinema are separate entities despite how ubiquitous it is within our societal psyche. Here he again tears up the rulebook with a psychological thriller that is all the former and none of the latter - traditionally, anyway. There’s lots of discussion revolving around this film about bourgeoisie guilt, or the denial of the 1961 Seine River massacre which probably holds weight, but I prefer to view it less from a historical or societal standpoint and from a meta one.

Haneke toys with his viewers - where one would expect a cat-and-mouse thriller with a big reveal instead descends into a palpably toxic drama revolving around a miasma of paranoia. But if the stalker is never revealed as a character, does that make us the stalker? The first shot of the film turns everything on its head. It begins as a long, passive establishing shot before gestating into the whole idea that drives the film. As soon as it begins to rewind, and we realise its a shot from a camera, everything becomes an enigma, everything is questioned. Just because we don’t see every single shot rewound and watched by characters doesn’t mean it’s not from the point of the view from the stalker, right? We become the fear Georges and Anne become surrounded by, we become the catalyst for their guilty consciences to want to confess, for their dreams to become nightmares. It’s intriguing that through their location, Haneke clearly highlights they’re intellectuals, through books instead of film, but its still an interesting comparison - the entertainment they use for both escapism and as a vocation comes back to tear their lives apart. Georges has his own TV show, established earlier during the end of one episode where he stares into the camera and bids goodnight - ostensibly nothing but in context of the film very eerie. The mediums used by the couple, by all of us, become weapons used against them. Cinema, an art form for so long used to entertain instead makes us the guilty ones. Who are we to expect thrills and entertainment from a couple being spied on and stalked? Haneke, like Funny Games, turns the camera around and points the finger squarely at us. He’s not necessarily excoriating us for the pleasure of being entertained by thrillers, but asks us to consider the real world within that context. It’s all fun and games on the big screen, but what if this was real? His films always break away from cinematic conventions to process the real life consequences of typically cinematic actions, here is no different. There’s no evil villain, no happy ending and no ostensible thrills to be had for the audience. Instead there’s a pervasive coldness derived from watching this, the energy is sucked out of the room until the film ends not with a bang, but with a deliberate whimper. There’s definitely solid readings to be made on Georges’ childhood flashbacks that make sense, but I think they can also be viewed as red herrings. If this spying scenario happened to any one of us, we too would rack our brains for any signal that we once created an enemy, or brought some sort of sin upon us through past indiscretions. Georges’ mind conjures up guilt and fear like a magic trick, convincing him that these tapes are somehow his fault when it could be read that he’s in some sort of meta-cinematic wormhole - no less a character but a device, a chess piece used by Haneke to call out the real villains: us.

A film that can be absorbed a myriad of ways and still work, and elucidates exactly why Haneke films can feel so cold yet engrossing all at once: he connects not with our emotional side, but our intellectual side. He’s rarely interested in relatable protagonists or an enthralling emotional experience, but instead endeavours to tap into our minds and make us question all we are seeing. Cinema stripped back to not only reveal its viscera, but to show its manipulative power.