Caché ★★★★

The farther away I got from having seen Caché, the more I found myself characterizing it as a cruel film. Not sure why, since a rewatch reminds/convinces me that it's really a critique of cruelty. Tapping into the (post-)colonial )micro-)atrocities committed by the French against Algerians, the film's use of mysterious elements by way of the thriller genre, long takes by way of art cinema, and suggestions of repressed guilt born out of denial by a character who claims childhood innocence altogether perform a powerful censure against both the status quo of the early 60s and the more contemporary social malaise coexisting with its fallout.

There's obviously this massively meta nature to the film, what with those surveillance shots invading the diegesis by way not only of the tapes but the camera apparatus itself. Early in the film during a night time scene, we get a surveillance shot from outside the family's home. A car pulls up from behind, its headlights moving across the screen from left to right and creating a pretty clear shadow of the camera against the nearby building. As if to tell us that this was no mistake of production, when the characters review the tape on screen, they rewind and replay the scene in such a way as to highlight the camera's shadow, though they don't seem to notice it...probably because it looks like an industrial movie camera and thus, though reflected in the diegesis, is effectively invisible to the characters. But despite the use of VHS tapes, the footage itself isn't qualitatively any different from any other footage we see in the film, suggesting it is the film. And when you consider the way the camera is constantly implicating Georges, especially in crimes by direct commission as well as association, this collapse between diegesis and cinematic apparatus makes plenty of sense. It also becomes a really ethical move on Haneke's part, not remotely implicating Majid or his son, since Georges does plenty of that himself. The defensive cries of innocence by Majib and his son are presented as fundamentally truthful, unlike most of what Georges tells Anne about the tapes and his own history. So if Haneke's camera is the "perpetrator" of the "crime" of surveillance and "terrorism," then it is also that which calls attention to history and the politics of colonialism.

I love especially the scene here that echoes Code Unknown, when Georges and Anne walk into the street and almost knock over a black man riding a bicycle. The conflict that results—involving Juliette Binoche—matches up really well with the opening conflict of that previous film and all its postcolonial implications. Finally, an observation: language of intelligence springs up pretty constantly in this film, especially by Georges and Anne. They talk about being "stupid," "dumb," "smart," and an "idiot." When he apologizes to her for lying, he couches his failure as a failure of intelligence and not one of love or morality. I think this is crucial to a full understanding of the film. I counted two occasions when love was directly invoked in Caché: one when Anne is desperately trying to convince her son that she isn't having an affair with another man, and again when Georges gets off the phone with Anne, his last words in the film. The camera of Caché is dispassionate to an extreme, acting as a mediator of information whether through the surveillance footage sent through tapes or through deep focus that keeps backgrounds of enormous significance as accessible as the foregrounded characters that are clueless of it. But the camera demands (through the footage and deep focus) that the film's characters feel some passion for each other, and it rebukes them when they don't. In this sense, I wonder if this isn't ultimately as humanist a film as there is.

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