Thursday, September 14, 2006

Michael Haneke and "Cache" (2005)

I finally got around to watching Michael Haneke's Cache (2005). The Austrian-born director captured and held my attention with the artfilm "hit" Funny Games (1997). For many (like me) the film was an introduction to the cynical matter-of-fact brutality of a talented auteur. Its plot revolves around a pair of apparently harmless, indulged young men who turn a couple's yearly return to their vacation home into an exercise in nightmarish endurance. Funny Games was not without its detractors, as one would expect with such emotionally harrowing material. Haneke was criticized for his almost sadistic manipulation of the viewer. Some hailed it as a masterpiece, while others maligned it as a gimmicky piece lacking humanity and redemption. I resolved to track down as much of Haneke's material as possible.

Over the last few years, a trickle of Haneke's films have been given sporadic release in the United States. Code Unknown (2000) consolidated interest in his work, with a temporal interlocking of the lives of four individuals. That was followed by The Piano Teacher (2001) with Isabelle Huppert, a film that would garner much attention and controversy for its depiction of a woman's descent into masochistic relations with her student. The 2003 post-apocalyptic Time of the Wolf slid under the radar, as Isabelle Huppert returned in a struggle for her family's survival in the devastating aftermath of an unnamed disaster.

Cache was unique, in that it was the first of Haneke's films to get fair distribution in this nation's video rental outlets. It continues the director's work in themes of voyuerism, emotional detachment, and guilt. The story begins when an upper middle class couple (Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil) receive video footage of the exterior of their home. They are understandably unnerved by this, and as they puzzle over its origination, several more videos follow... now wrapped in crude, childlike drawings. This continued low-level process of terrorism begins to expose cracks in the otherwise professional arrangement of the couple's marriage. When Auteuil forms a hunch about the perpetrator, a web of deceit and memory is constructed that threatens to obstruct the relationships in his world. He must face a long-buried childhood experience, and a long-denied sense of guilt.

Haneke doesn't make any of this easy for the audience. If you are the type of film-viewer who needs clear resolution, then I recommend you leave this film wherever you find it. It certainly leaves more than one gaping abyss in the telling, and by the end of the film one wonders if it is even about the themes that it originally appeared to be exploring. On the other hand, if you are the type that enjoys puzzling through a film long after it is over, then this is a great choice. It's seeming cold exteriors and extended static shots require a lot of patience, but it's rewards are formidable. While Haneke seems like the ultimate cynic, his stories are ultimately obsessed with morality. And while he can be viewed as a manipulative filmmaker, he is also generous in his presentation of work that allows multiple interpretations. It could well be that your reception of his films exposes as much about you as it does about Haneke's intentions.

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