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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Cache Me If You Can

Anyone who believes that cinema cannot engage with contemporary cultural anxieties would do well to check out Michael Haneke's new movie Cache (Hidden), playing in the IFI and CineWorld. This ambiguous, ominous and deeply unsettling psychological drama stars French A-Listers Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche as Georges and Anne Laurent, a wealthy middle-class couple who start receiving surveillence tapes of their home in the post. The tapes keep coming, eventually with sinister drawings attached and mysterious phone calls following. Georges suspects that the person behind the stalking is someone from his childhood against whom he commited a wrong but he keeps most of this information hidden from his increasingly unnerved wife.

Cache is an astonishing movie. It's constructed in such a way that it makes it harder and harder to tell when you, as the audience, are watching one of the surveillence tapes and when you're actually watching the movie as filmed through Haneke's lens. Maybe there is no difference between the two? Haneke succeeds in shattering his characters' complacency but he does the exact same thing to us, particularly by way of two breathtakingly shocking moments of violence that jolt you out of your skin.

More than that, though, Haneke implicates us in both the stalking and and the wider issues that underpin the mysterious actions. Georges specifically traces his current problems to an incident from the past that occured after the violent suppression of French Arab protesters during the Algerian conflict in 1961. Cache is clearly concerned with addressing French colonial guilt, a point made even more pertinent to modern audiences by the deliberate prominence given to a news report about the American-British occupation of Iraq.

What makes Cache even richer, however, is that there is a chance it's not about that guilt at all. It would certainly seem so but this movie teaches us that you cannot believe everything you see or hear. Guilt certainly is a leitmotif here but it forces you to constantly rethink what exactly there is to feel guilty about. The camera never really settles - nor do the characters. I want to see it again because I don't trust any of them anymore. Something about the way they all relate to each other doesn't settle with us as an audience. Something tells me that its not meant to.

Cache may not be Friday evening entertainment but I highly recommend that you check it out. Like another recent French film, Le Clan, it points out the faultlines in modern French society, particularly with regards its race relations. These viewings are made more crucial in light of the recent riots that brought the country to the brink of a national emergency.

Rarely has a movie so unsettled and perplexed me. Cache will keep you rivetted from beginning to end but I recommend you bring someone as you will need more than one pair of eyes to take it all in and more than one mind to chew over what exactly you've just seen and what it means. And do not attempt to leave the cinema just because the credits are rolling as Cache has one of the most profoundly ambiguous final shots in the history of cinema, one that will haunt you for days and have you arguing for ever over its plethora of possible interpretations. Prepare for a repeat viewing straight after you leave the first one.

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