Sunday, October 25, 2015

Best of the 2000s: Cache

4 Stars

At the heart of Michael Haneke’s Cache are two interlocking ideas. First, Cache explores how the lives of contented people can be torn asunder once they learn that they are under surveillance. Second, Cache argues that we are responsible for the sins of our forebears, particularly where race relations and colonialism are concerned.

Cache stars Juliete Binoche and Daniel Auteuil as Anne and Georges Laurent. Georges is a media personality in Paris and Anne works for a publisher. They receive a video cassette that depicts their home and has recorded their comings and goings. At first, they attempt to put this strangeness behind them, but they receive another tape and then another. Each subsequent tape comes with a child’s drawing, and eventually a pair of clues that lead Georges to suspect these tapes are being sent by someone from his past.

Cache depicts how the revelation that they are being watched causes strain on Anne and Georges marriage. The stress causes Anne to lash out in frustration. Her frustration gradually grows as it becomes clear that Georges has a suspicion about the culprit's identity, but refuses to share that information with her. Cache doesn’t descend into cliché. Each spouse trusts the other’s fidelity; but Georges is ashamed of his family’s past, and Anne doesn’t understand why her husband would keep his own counsel and refuse to tell her whatever secret he’s hiding that might ease her fears.

Georges shame is related to the Paris Massacre of 1861, a tragic event wherein the French National Police confronted an unauthorized demonstration by the National Liberation Front (an Algerian socialist political party) resulting in the deaths of at least 40 Algerian-Frenchmen. Some estimates place the death toll significantly higher.

As it happens, Georges family employed an Algerian couple on their estate. The Algerian couple had a son a little older than Georges named Majid. The Algerian couple apparently died in the massacre, and Georges’ parents decided to attempt to adopt Majid. But Georges was jealous and made up lies about Majid’s behavior in order to prevent his parents from adopting Majid.

As the anonymous videographer’s campaign to terrorize his family increases, Georges confesses all of this history to Anne and confronts Majid. This gives Georges the opportunity to make statements like, “I refuse to give myself a bad conscience because of what happened to Majid’s parents.”

Cache attempts to draw a parallel between the actions of the French National Police and the six-year-old Georges in 1961. This is where Haneke's second concept for Cache takes over. It seems that Haneke’s intent was to challenge Georges’ statement that he is not responsible for Majid’s fate. Haneke seems to believe that France as an institution, and the French people by extension, are responsible for Hajid. Just as France ruined the lives of so many Algerians that day, Georges ruined Majid's life.

As put forward by Cache, the problem with this argument is that the actions of the French National Police and the actions of a six-year-old boy are in no way equivalent. At the time, the French National Police were commanded by Maurice Papon (later convicted of war crimes for his role in the Vichy Government). The French National Police were motivated, at best, by their desire to quell political dissent and, at worst, by racist impulses. Six-year-old Georges was simply jealously guarding the affections of his parents. It seems very unlikely that Georges was motivated by racism or political dissent. The difference between the motives of the French National Police and the actions of a six-year-old boy are significant, and this difference undercuts the argument that Haneke is trying to make.

Nevertheless, Cache remains an effective psychological thriller and compelling mystery. Binoche and Auteuil give wonderful performances, and Haneke’s pacing is perfect. However, I think Cache means to indict us for the sins of our ancestors. Whatever differences I as a viewer have with Haneke on this topic, Haneke has not made a very compelling case. Consequently, Cache is not classic, but it is thought provoking.

Cache was selected as one of the best films of the 2000s by four different reviewers. The Times of London selected Cache as the best film of the 2000s. The next film for this project is Yi Yi, and it is the first film selected by five reviewers for their best of the decade lists.

From Out in the Void


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