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From Under A Rock: Caché

April 16, 2018 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Caché  


We’ve had no shortage of foreign movies covered in this column, but I think this is the first French-language film.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael chose Bowfinger. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock to show him Caché.

Caché (Hidden)
Released: October 5th, 2005 (France)
Written and Directed by: Michael Haneke
Daniel Auteuil as Georges Laurent
Juliette Binoche as Anne Laurent
Maurice Bénichou as Mijad
Lester Makedonsky as Pierrot Laurent

Aaron Hubbard: This is a movie that kept coming up as a suggestion from different online critics I follow. I watched it and thought it was stellar.

Michael Ornelas: I was glued to my screen the whole time, even if I wasn’t getting any definitive answers to my questions. What a fascinating experiment in filmmaking…
Fear of Surveillance
Aaron: This movie has one of the more spellbinding yet frustrating opening shots of all time. Trying to figure out why it opens on a static shot of a peaceful house is tricky, at least until the rewind happens and we realize we are watching characters watch a tape. Georges and Anne are understandably freaked out about this. The idea that someone is watching and recording your every move and you don’t know who, how or why is terrifying. But as it turns out, the one who is really surveying Georges and discovering all his secrets is… us. The viewer.

Michael: When you put it like that, it’s really corny, haha. But no, it’s captivating. I felt like I was part of trying to solve the mystery. We completely tear apart Georges’ life, and it’s terrifying. We all have secrets and regrets — his are just at the forefront as he’s forced to grapple with them because they may be the key to unlocking what is happening to him. I never felt good watching the surveillance footage, even though the movie was fiction. But what’s worse is that I couldn’t wait for the next one each time. It shows the sick psychology of human curiosity because at what point is our thirst for knowledge bordering on intrusion? It’s an interesting way to view a movie and it made me feel a little guilty throughout.

Aaron: Guilt is probably the most appropriate emotion to feel about this movie. What really intrigued me was the subtle shift from being on Georges’ side to kind of understanding why his life deserves scrutiny. But does that justify the surveillance? I guess that’s a matter of opinion. It was certainly a hot button topic at the time of this film’s release and will continue to be a source of debate for the foreseeable future.
The Right of Ambiguity
Michael: I’m a big believer that filmmakers are allowed to be ambiguous with the answers the audiences crave, so long as they at least address them. Thanks to Aaron’s guidance, I do think the answer is hidden (no pun intended) in the film, but it doesn’t confirm anything really. It gives you a good idea, but you have to work to find it. So we just watched this guy’s life get torn apart for two hours, and no confirmation at the end as to the questions of “who?” and “why?”. But that’s glossing over the previous two hours because there’s totally enough there to answer those questions. How do we all feel about that approach to storytelling?

Aaron: This certainly isn’t a popcorn movie. It demands your total attention, but I think it both invites and rewards that attention. It deals with a very real fear that is easy to comprehend, hooking you and making every scene tense as you want to find the answers, but are sort of unprepared for them. And when you do figure it out, the answers are thought provoking and have deeper meaning. It’s a movie that sits with you. Not all films can do this, and several try and fail. Caché succeeds.

Michael: The answers also make total sense, but you don’t think to consider that point of view when you’re starting out. We don’t want to give anything away, so simply check it out and you won’t regret it.
Pretending Guilt Doesn’t Exist
Aaron: As is fitting for a film that means “Hidden”, there is a subtext to the film that requires either foreknowledge or research to truly grasp. George brings up the Paris Massacre from the Algerian war as the reason for Majid coming into his home. This is an actual event where the French police killed an acknowledged 40 (but estimates are between 100 and 300) Algerians who were part of the National Liberation Front. It is one of the bloodiest events in recent French history and one that was largely ignored by the country before it was declassified in 1998. Georges refusal to acknowledge that the event was a tragedy or consider the harm it did to Majid. It mirrors the reaction of his society, turning a blind eye to something just because “Well, we didn’t do it. Those other people did it.” This movie asks us to confront our history and acknowledge the pain of others.

Michael: Contextually, this isn’t a thing I knew about, but it was very briefly touched upon in the film, and even though it didn’t give us a full history lesson, it was clear that Georges wasn’t acknowledging Majid’s pain. That’s enough, big historical event or not, to make this connection. If something hurts someone, it’s always the right thing to hear them out for why they’re hurting instead of diminishing their voices because you don’t want any accountability. We see this all over the place in America to varying extents and the notion of humility when faced with accepting that I may have hurt others in past is very important to me. This movie does a great, yet subtle, job in speaking to that idea.

Aaron: It’s a more immediate connection for French viewers, obviously, but once you know what it’s about it’s not hard to find parallels. The movie has quite a bit of commentary going on, it’s just not upfront about it. Georges is a well-off successful man who thinks he’s better than people less fortunate than him and refuses to acknowledge their pain, or how he benefits from it. To him, the mostly harmless (but still immoral) surveillance is a bigger crime than the Algerian massacre, because it is happening to him, and not somebody else. Which is survival instinct and thus universal, but the movie asks us to consider a broader perspective.

Michael: I don’t think the movie could have been more minimalist, in a way. It didn’t do too much (except for a couple big moments), yet it sucked me in. It was a fascinating study in storytelling but I don’t know if I have the impulse to watch it over and over (or even again). Great acting, message, and filmmaking makes this a top tier film though.


Aaron: I was impressed the first time I saw Caché, but it’s become more fascinating to me over time. Aside from being captivating and well performed, it also rewards you for being observant and looking for the hidden details. It’s not a movie to rewatch over and over, but one of the better movies of the early 2000s in my book.


Michael: It was a slow burn but that really got me invested!

Aaron: This was actually the second film I’ve seen from this director, as I watched Amour in theatres. I highly recommend that film as well.

Are there any other French movies you’d like us to review on this column?

Next week:

Michael: Oh my, what have I done…?
Battlefield Earth
Aaron: Great. I just recovered from the suffering from The Star Wars Christmas Special and now you pick this legendary dud.

Michael: I haven’t seen this since 10th grade. I have all the context in the world now and want to properly revisit it so I can truly trash it. It’s certainly a sight to behold…

What’s the most ridiculous movie about religion you’ve seen?

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The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Caché is a movie that will weed out impatient viewers. For those who are willing to get sucked into the narrative, it's a compelling, thoughtful piece of minimalist cinema. It posits that the skeletons in our closets are more terrifying than any perceived threat from the outside. If you have a well-trained eye and two hours to spend, we think you'll find this a rewarding viewing.