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Movie Review: Caché

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One of the strengths of Caché is its ability to generate discussion. I don’t think anyone can see the film and then resist the urge to talk about it. Whether face-to-face on the walk home from the theater, more comfortably on the couch after watching the DVD, or digitally, on a chatroom, forum or blog on the Internet, you’ll want to find out what other viewers and reviewers read, or didn’t read, from the film. For example, I saw it with a small group of people, and Caché fueled our conversations for the rest of the night. Coffee and Caché. Very French, if you don’t count that not one of us smokes. However, there was a bit of what seemed like a snag in our discussion: while most of us loved it, there was one person who hated it. To our collective surprise, the many-to-one conversation against the dissenter proved the most productive conversation of all.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “Who was making the goddamn tapes?”

We threw some ideas at him: “Majid,” “Majid’s son,” “their sons,” “there were no tapes; it was Georges’ conscience,” “it doesn’t matter—”

“It doesn’t matter? Of course it matters.”

“Maybe the film’s made in a way that allow multiple readings—“

“Maybe the director—Haneke, or however you say it—didn’t have a clue about how to end his movie—any ending would have been a let-down and probably inconsistent with the rest of the film, so he “left it open” for movie goons like you to ponder over.”

“That’s not fair. I mean, there are plenty of films—some that you even liked—that leave things ambiguous at the end.”

“Sure, but they don’t pretend to be thrillers. And they don’t start off with a long-ass shot of a videotape, go through a whole plot to find out who the hell was making them, and then leave you with nothing.”

“But you’re reading the film—”

“I’m not reading anything. I was watching—”

“Fine, you’re just watching the film in a different way than we are. Why does having no resolution make you so angry? For example, in Japan—“

“Come on! In Japan? We’re not in Japan, and the movie’s not Japanese. Just because I don’t pretend to see things that aren’t really there, and think the movie’s a cop-out for having no ending, doesn’t mean you can go film school on me. Read what you want into it, but let me just talk about what’s there: nothing.”

“Even if we are reading things into it, that doesn’t mean you’re right just because you dismiss everything. If we make up nine things, or come up with nine theories, and one of them is right, or even half-right, we still come out ahead.”

“So, who filmed the guy and his wife?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t think it matters.”

“Here we go again. It matters because that’s what the film’s about! If we don’t know who did it, then we don’t know why they did it, and we don’t know why, then we just know what—and we knew what before the opening credits finished.”

“We also know when.”

“When?”

“After Georges … Majid, before Majid … and, in the larger context, when the war in Iraq’s going on, before the race riots in Paris—remember the scene of Georges and his wife talking with the TV between them showing some news footage of the war? There’s a reason that was there.”

“So it’s some sort of big political allegory. Evil white, French rich people putting down and oppressing the poor, angelic Arabs?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t think Haneke lets Majid off the hook so easily. As much as Georges doesn’t want to remember what happened and admit the guilt he has and feels, Majid remembers it too much! He blames everything that went bad in his life on that one action made by a 6-year old. And the only reason Majid even had a chance to a better life and to be … by … is because … gave him that chance. There’s guilt in the film that one side doesn’t want to acknowledge and the other side doesn’t want to put into honest perspective.”

“Tapes, tapes, tapes. Why?”

“Because they unsettle Georges and his wife. They remind them that their comfortable life is being watched and maybe even threatened. Like those videos that bin Laden puts out every few months. They don’t really have a point, but they’re still a little bit unsettling and they make the news, right?”

“And the last shot? Is that some sort of cheesy, there’s-still-hope message?”

“I don’t even agree with what … said, but I don’t think Haneke’s being in any way hopeful. I don’t even think that last shot happens at the end of the film’s time line. Remember that the second-last scene is a flashback or memory or something like that, so just because a scene comes after that one doesn’t mean it comes at the end of the film. Try putting that last scene at the beginning of the film and you have a whole different picture, right? It’s weird how it would skew everything we saw and thought if Haneke put that at the beginning.”

“So … did it? I don’t get why … would.”

“No, … didn’t do it. That’s the point. Maybe … did it. But I think … has got the right idea. Caché is all about teasing you into deconstructing it—into becoming an active viewer. I think it’s significant that after Majid …, Georges goes to the cinema! And then think of the second-to-last scene in the film. It’s shot with this black frame that makes the action, from the point of view of the camera, look like a theater screen. Didn’t you want to get involved in that scene and help … when …? And Georges works as a TV host—another instance of spectacle and viewership. Now that I think about it, there was a focus on the spectators at Pierrot’s swim meet, too.”

“You can read anything into anything, if you want. Hell, you’re all probably smarter than Haneke for making this shit up. The more empty and pointless a movie is, the more open it is for theories made up by film students—”

“And Haneke shoots the whole film on video, right? Just like the the videos that Georges keeps getting.”

“Haneke’s laughing at you guys right now. I swear!”

“Maybe Haneke’s planting the videos!”

“Look at all the idiots wasting their time trying to interpret my movie. Ka-ching.”

“Dude, that kind of makes sense, you know? Haneke’s taping the family and then terrorizing them with the tapes. He’s taking all of these characters and fucking with them!”

“Again, there’s no reason for him to do that. It’s just like all your other theories—wrong.”

“But there is a reason!”

“Pray, do tell, Haneke-san”

“He’s doing it for us—the audience—for their—for our—amusement. He screws around with Georges and Majid purely for our satisfaction. He knows we want it, so he does it. We kept watching, didn’t we?”

“What about people who walked out in mid-movie, like I should have done? What about them?”

“They wouldn’t be asking these questions because they wouldn’t be interested. All those slow scenes in the beginning…they’re meant to get people like [the dissenter] out of the theater!”

“Funny.”

“Like in Funny Games—exactly. Haneke’s always shown a pretty keen feeling for what his viewer is feeling and what he wants, and making audiences react in certain ways. He’s certainly not a filmmaker who pretends he’s making movies for no one, like some of the crap that comes out of Hollywood.”

“Oh, the irony! It hurts, it hurts!”

“That really ties in with the guilt theme, too. If we’re watching Haneke toy with Georges and Majid, and everyone else, and we don’t do a thing to stop him, aren’t we complicit in the things he does. We’re spurring him on by not doing anything. And so we have to share the guilt for what happens because we allowed it to happen by not acting to stop it.”

“Passive collaboration…in a French film? Never! I shan’t think the French know a thing about it.”

“Shut up, already. You’re just being annoying. Go watch Spiderman or porn or football.”

“You guys are insane. You know that? You’re like those pathetic, rich, snobby book critics that your own beloved Haneke rips apart in the very film you’re being precious about. Let’s cut from this to the part where they talk about some side character’s suppressed homosexuality, then let’s talk about the garden as a symbol for white, liberal guilt. I mean, if that’s not a joke on you, I don’t know what the hell would be.”

“Ha! So you agree that there was a point to Caché!”

“Jesus. I’m going to go grab a … from the … and pull a Majid if you don’t stop talking about this movie in the next five minutes. Let’s talk about Good Night, and Good Luck. or—you know—another movie that was actually good.”

“You know, guys, I liked Caché after the credits ran, but now I’m beginning to really love it. There are so many details and things to talk about in it. When …. brought up that second-to-last scene, I remember watching the foreground more than the background. And, like you said, the shot’s framed, but it’s framed by … ! If you think about what frames the scene, you can think that that shot really foreshadows some pretty nasty things. But, on the other hand, if you think about framing as in the verb, then you come up with the idea that … isn’t even Georges’ fault—like … already said. The film’s so rich it’s not even funny.”

“Haneke’s the one who’s rich. Because of people like you! Honestly, do you even give other movies this amount of thought, or do you just think about this one because you’ve read in some lame magazine or on some website that Haneke is a great director.”

“He is a great director. If you knew anything about anything about filmmaking, you’d know that even just his style has a point to it. He’s rebelling against this idea that films are all about editing and cuts every half a second like some rap video. He doesn’t find it necessary to force us to see one thing in a shot, and he doesn’t find it necessary to limit cinema to just how images gain meanings in relation to each other. It’s against the ideas put forward by the old Soviet filmmakers.”

“Are you finished, Ebert?”

“No. I wanted to say that Haneke’s all about how elements of one shot or one image interact with each other. Like I said before, it’s more Japanese than—wait, why did you call me Ebert?”

“Because you’re fat and easy.”

“And you’re not easy? You don’t even want to think about a film that’s in the least bit challenging.”

“And you don’t want to admit that you don’t understand a movie or that there is nothing to understand because a movie has no point, makes no sense, and isn’t even entertaining. You guys say I’m in the mainstream because I like the movies I like and I don’t like Caché and don’t pretend to understand it, but it’s the other way around. You guys don’t want to admit that I’m right and the movie sucks because it’ll make you look like the loser in your loser film-school circles. You don’t want to be the person who says that the emperor’s dick is waving around in the wind because you’re afraid you’ll be castrated for it—how’s that for symbolism—even though you and the rest of the snobs know the truth.”

“That’s such an easy thing to say, because anything that is more ambitious than your typical episode of The O.C. just gets labeled as pretentious and anyone who likes it gets labeled a snob. You have such a narrow definition of what a movie should be, and you believe in it so much, that you’re the one who’s pigeon-holed and a snob. Except you’re a low-brow snob and you revel in your own low tastes. But it’s just as much made up as what you think we do. You’re acting dumb on purpose because you’re afraid that by saying something original or pretentious you’ll be laughed at. It’s so much easier to criticize a movie for searching for answers about issues more abstract and important than getting laid by Jessica Alba than to commend it for trying to think about the questions it asks. So what if it doesn’t give any answers. So what if we’re wrong in everything we say. We’re talking about things. And we wouldn’t be talking about things if we just came out of watching The Ducks of Hazzard.”

“That doesn’t mean I’m wrong. What’s your point?”

“My point is—“

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