Caché (Hidden) Review

"My films are intended as polemical statements against the American 'barrel down' cinema and its disempowerment of the spectator. They are an appeal for a cinema of insistent questions instead of false (because too quick) answers, for clarifying distance in place of violating closeness, for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus."

The films of Michael Haneke, a controversial if undeniably gifted Austrian filmmaker, are marked by moments of social implosion, characters with dark pasts that threaten to unravel their bourgeois existence and the breakdown of the barrier between the subject and the viewer. With Caché, his tenth film, Haneke attempts to accentuate these themes by creating a film in which the very premise hinges on the question of subjectivity and the hidden pasts that threaten to destroy a comfortable family in suburban Paris. Georges (Daniel Auteuil) is a successful literary critic turned TV host who lives a seemingly-secure life with his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) and their teenage son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). However, this veil of security starts to erode when a surveillance videotape of their home arrives on the doorstep; these sinister, anonymous tapes start to amass and soon the family unit begins to collapse under the threat of lies, infidelity and uncovered secrets.

As Haneke claims, his films do contain incessant questions and moments of provocation; nothing is clear-cut and everything is open to constant interpretation. Filmed in high-definition video, Caché's visual fabric is consistently ambiguous – are we watching a surveillance tape or the work of Haneke behind the camera? What is real and what is false? In fact, where do these lines cross? I applaud Haneke for choosing such a visual method of deconstructing modern-day neuroses and the way in which most people throw up a thin veil, a fragile glass wall, in front of their lives and hope that the stones from across the street will never shatter it. However, with this film we witness how easy it is for an outsider to invade and encroach on someone else's personal space – and the consequences which inevitably follow.

It becomes difficult to discuss Caché any further without revealing aspects of the plot which would ruin the film for viewers. Its main strengths lie both in the presentation of the narrative and the strong characterisation which accompanies it, not least due to exemplary performances from Auteuil and Binoche. They inhabit their bourgeois existence with conviction and they seem to gain sadistic pleasure in slowly picking at the holes in their marriage. Questions arise over possible affairs, violent pasts and racial mistreatment – skeletons in the closet which are systematically uncovered and dusted off through the paradoxical probing lens of the static camera. Doubt and fear is created in the mind, not in the material, and this method of psychological manipulation is expertly handled by Haneke.

Some critics have claimed that this is the first masterpiece of the twenty-first century whilst others have become infuriated by its lack of resolution or grand explanation. But, much like life, there are always moments of uncertainty and times when no single answer can be reached. Problems will always snowball out of control and Caché certainly proves this. Different interpretations have been put forward as to who made the tapes – and what they wanted from the family – with the attribution of guilt ranging from an outsider to Pierrot and maybe even Georges. However, I have my own theory, one which suspects Haneke himself as the arch manipulator – with this film the director broke down so many boundaries between reality and fiction that his greatest trick may be in fact the blurring of the distinctions that usually reside between subject, director and viewer. His camera is omniscient and certain events occur in the film – such as the deposit of a tape in an extraordinarily short space of time – which suggests that it is in fact the result of a deus ex machina. Haneke's motives for this approach could range from a desire to challenge audience's perceptions of the role of the director, to an attempt at apportioning blame squarely on the French for their treatment of the Algerians. Political issues aside, Caché is a rich and rewarding film which fades out at the end leaving more questions than it does answers – and it is all the more memorable for that very reason.

The Disc
Released by Sony, this R1 release is almost identical to the R2 release aside from this disc lacking its own trailer and a selection of filmographies. English and Spanish subtitles are provided throughout the main feature and the disc menus are stylish and easy to navigate.

Audio-Visual Presentation
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the digital image has been transferred brilliantly to DVD. The colour palette is varied and well-defined, the print has an excellent level of sharpness and clarity and the transfer is only marred by very minor compression artefacts. On the audio side, the French Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack is perfectly adequate for what is literally a dialogue-driven film – Caché has no music score (something which again raises questions about the lack of distinction between the characters and the viewer; nothing is presented like a "movie" in the traditional sense).

A very interesting and informative interview with Michael Haneke runs for 25 minutes and showcases the director's intelligence and motives. No answers are proffered but it does expand on the film's themes. A 30-minute behind-the-scenes look at the production is interesting – especially when Haneke loses his cool at one point – but it does tend to overstay its welcome.

The disc also contains a large selection of trailers: The White Countess, Breakfast on Pluto, Friends with Money, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Joyeux Noel, Don't Come Knocking, Capote, Why We Fight, Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School and Cirque du Soleil: Lovesick.

This film certainly isn't for everyone but it is nevertheless a gripping meditation on the notion of interpretation and subjectivity. Ambiguous to the extreme, Caché may annoy some viewers but it will definitely captivate others. This R1 release is very good and whilst some might bemoan the lack of an audio commentary from Haneke, he is the last man on this planet who would be willing to offer a concrete analysis of his film. Is that endearing or a mere get-out clause? You decide.

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