Jeff and I saw this together last night. We walked in as fans of director Michael Haneke, and walked out with that adoration confirmed, if not exuberantly so–I think it was a strong, smart, challenging film, if not quite the equal of his finest (Time of the Wolf). So it is highly recommended, and I think we both want to puzzle over its objectives and accomplishments.

That said, it is also a film best discussed after viewing, and I don’t want to disrupt any of the pleasures of the text by giving away this or that–you can’t really start addressing without naming, so I’ll avoid explicit spoilers but can’t sidestep certain specifics.

The plot in brief: a bourgeois/intellectual French couple start receiving anonymous videotapes, long shots of the outside of their home (or other locations). No explicit message, no clear purpose–just long motionless shots. They are initially discomforted, and their anxiety increases exponentially as more tapes are received. The film develops a palpable dread, as it riffs through potential purposes for and meanings of the tapes.

I’m most interested in the problem of what is being “hidden” and what the tapes are ostensibly revealing. The film’s conclusion is opaque, suggestive rather than definitive–and invites a return to obsessive analysis and explication of the film.

An obvious answer seems to be a hidden history–a national cover-up of the massacre of Algerians in Paris, and a personal subterfuge by husband Daniel Auteuil about his displacement of an orphaned Algerian boy living with his family. Yet it could as easily be a psychological unravelling, as Auteuil’s shame slowly ripples up and reveals the falsity of his life and his self-deceptions. Or… you get the picture; the videos emerge as ripe metaphors for a variety of takes (ahem) on what might be hidden. But there is a tendency to read the tapes as provocations which reveal, as mechanisms for exposing whatever is hidden. And this seems to fit into a sense of the long shot in film theory–it’s Bazin, right, who imagined that film in the absence of cutting/editing reveals most complexly the fullness of life? Film is literalized as a revelatory mechanism, as a force for unveiling a reality we try to cover up….

…but I don’t really buy that. Those long shots are not revelations but screens; the final shot–with its ambiguous suggestion of other agendas, other meanings–returns us to the central problem: what on earth sense do we make of these shots? I am leaning toward an idea that, whether taken in one allegorical frame (racism, bourgeois intellectualism, psychology) or simply as a formal meta-reflection, film acts a field onto which we project those things we conceal, cover up, try to escape… but is itself resistant to the concreteness or conclusiveness of reality.

That’s real fuzzy and ambiguous, and the film actually isn’t–what I love about its impact is how sometimes maddeningly quotidian its aesthetic and narrative are. In other words, it ain’t a dreamy figurative film, but instead tends toward documentarian impulses, ostensibly recording rather than reconfiguring. I know, I know–that’s paradoxical. But I think that’s why I found it so gripping: its tools for exposing the blankness of ‘meaning’ in film are the very devices often touted as potentially revelatory and liberatory in form and function. The film uses realism as a tool for unravelling the possibility of realism, yet (ironically) does so to resist the fantasies and concealments film often encourages or engenders.

Lots of alliteration, to go along with the ambiguity. Sorry; the movie does seem to prompt a turn toward wishy-washy nouns. I would rather that a few people see it and start fighting over the finale, or other scenes. But for now this little goad. Jeff?

39 thoughts on “Cache/Hidden”

  1. It is a hard movie to talk about but one I hope folks on this site will see as soon as they are able. These long shots Mike mentions (and the attendant Bazinian theory that clings to them) are so problematic. Sometimes we think we are watching a representation of the fictive “real” and other times we discover we are watching a representation of another representation as the frame is disrupted suddenly and the static shot begins to move in fast forward and/or reverse. Ahh, we are only watching a video playing on a television screen. Characters are continually editing themselves (and the main character is a television personality who hosts a talk show about books, which is supposedly live but we see him editing his footage to achieve economy, etc.) . . . so the film is continually commenting on itself. After a particularly disconcerting event, one character simply escapes to the movies (an Isabelle Hupert movie is playing–Ma Mere–along with sentimental French favorite The Chorus), and I can’t help but feel as if Haneke is implicating us. Indeed, I’m of a mind that Haneke firmly situates himself into the mise-en-scene as Cache begins to appropriate the thematic concerns of a film like Rear Window. Only here Haneke is interested in capturing on film a sense of national guilt as well as the potential–hidden–terrors of post-colonial globalization.

  2. I’m not ready to come at this with any full-fledged reading, but I agree with jeff’s line: ‘I can’t help but feel as if Haneke is implicating us.’

    Absolutely. We often don’t know if we are watching a tape IN the movie, or just watching the action OF the movie. I took the last scene to definitely be a tape, not live. Though I didn’t see their son in the last scene, I assumed he was in there, and that the tape was delivered to the family.

    I dont think we should censor this discussion for the people who have not seen it. They should just not read further until they’ve seen it. It was a fascinating film of which I’d be interested in more people’s ideas.

  3. So Mauer, what was your take on Pierrot? Why did Haneke include that long take early in the film of Pierrot learning how to make graceful turns in the swimming pool during practice. We continually return to these swimming practices and meets, why? Pierrot and Hajib’s son do meet in that final long shot/scene. They talk, they do not argue, Hajib’s son leaves, Pierrot goes back and joins his friends and then he leaves as well. What do we make of that ambiguous scene? Also, early in the film when Georges is returning home and parking on the street, the light from the car casts a shadow against the brick wall–its a shadow of a movie camera and then a very quick cut to Georges’ fantasy (return of the repressed) of Hajib as a child actually vomiting up blood. Why include that little Hitchcockian moment? And why, when you try to figure out where that camera would be positioned in order to capture the home from the proper angle do you realize that there is no way that camera couldn’t be seen? It would literally have to sit in the middle of the street hovering about five to six feet off the ground, yes?

  4. I did notice the camera in the shadow. I didn’t however give too much thought to where / how it was placed for this reason: At no time does Auteil or Binoche go into the street to try to find out where the camera might have been or shot from. It seemed like a trail that Haneke wanted his characters to avoid and I was willing to grant him that. So I didn’t give much thought to the camera, other than noticing it.

    I wondered if the tapes were something that had no basis in the film’s reality whatsoever. That is, they were delivered into the film by Haneke to set the characters in motion, like a god toying with his creations. But part of the reason I thought that was that at a certain point, there was no other single person who could have done this. I had at first thought it was the son Pierrot, until the tape of Majid and Georges shows up.

    However, the action in that last scene – which I missed entirely – indicates a much more plausible answer: the sons of Majid and Georges worked together to create the tapes.

    I do still think that the last scene is also a tape – so it brings in a third tape-maker; perhaps Georges? Perhaps someone else entirely, allowing a glimpse into an even larger story that encompasses the next generation.

    Upon leaving the film, my only theory was this: the film was a metaphor for the “war on terror.” The rich powerful nation is threatened and strikes out in what it feels is an appropriate way at the correct enemy. It is not the correct enemy, nor appropriate. The consequences of that action lead to further trauma and bloodshed, while at the same time coming no closer to the real culprit/threat.

    Not knowing much of the details of the history of the French / Algerian mess, I of course realized that there was probably a more Franco-centric reading of it as well, that I just didn’t know enough about to piece together.

    I’ve avoided reading many outside reviews of the film, but I think I’ll delve in now and see what some others have to say about it. This usually disappoints me, but…

  5. First, I remember many shots from Georges’ home looking out into the street where the filming must have occured. There are enough of these point of view shots (where are they hiding that damn camera) to allow the audience to work out spatial elements as to how the tapes are being made in the first place. I’m loathe to move outside the text to make meaning of it, though I still like the idea of Haneke as god/Zeus/director figure who is orchestrating this exercise in menace and the destablization of bourgeois comfort (particularly the white, priviledged and intellectual comfort Haneke seems to enjoy fucking with most).

    I’ve been doing a little research on Haneke’s response to audience questions. Seems as if he was minimally interested in the French/Algerian tensions (all first world country’s have these black or brown stains on their history) nor was he at all interested in what was happening in Iraq (the television material was chosen based upon what would have been on the news at the time the film was being made, though its hard to buy this entirely). Seems as if Haneke wanted to make a film about guilt and Georges is his central object of inquiry–his apathy, his desire to escape to the movies or take a couple of sleeping tablets and close the curtains on the world. As for the final scene. In an interview with the Village Voice, Haneke suggests it doesn’t matter what you see or don’t see:

    Haneke’s obsessions converge in Caché‘s final scene, a chilling long take that’s the most enigmatic conclusion in recent movie memory. “Using a fixed shot means there’s one less form of manipulation—the manipulation of time,” Haneke says. “I’ve always wanted to create the freedom one has when reading a book, where one has all the possibilities because you create all the images in your head.” Resolutely cryptic, he refuses to decode the scene’s meaning: “About half the viewers see something and the other half don’t, and it works both ways.” He adds, invoking his protagonist’s own mental journey, “We always fill the screen with our own experiences. Ultimately, what we see comes from inside us.”

    Finally, in the same interview Haneke mentions his next project will be a three and a half hour film on Nazi Youth.

    I’m still surprised that so few questions or answers revolve around Georges’ son.

  6. “First, I remember many shots from Georges’ home looking out into the street where the filming must have occured. There are enough of these point of view shots (where are they hiding that damn camera) to allow the audience to work out spatial elements as to how the tapes are being made in the first place.”

    Really? I don’t recall him doing that at all… I remember that when Georges does go outisde during his dinner party, he barely steps outside, but when he closes the door, the package has been laid inside the gate, and inside the doorway. That – if little Pierrot was to be disqualified as the culprit, gave me a little more ammo to thinking it was indeed the director. And yes, it seems like a cop-out in many ways, but it does play into the whole audience-implication thing, which every critic also points out. Especially b/c we do see Geroges editing his supposed “live” talk-show, so the idea of a filmmaker being in control and pulling the strings is right there in the story. Well, Dayna has also seen the movie – maybe she’ll chime in.

    I am kind of intrigued by the idea that the director does not really care how many of the clues you pick up on. That it “works both ways” is in fact, true. It’s an impressive constsruction that the film actually can do that.

  7. The last line of the Haneke quotation Jeff provides–“what we see comes from inside us”–echoes my thoughts about film as a screen. While we’re busy trying to spot the reveal, to unravel what the characters or the film in toto are hiding, all we really do is read what we project onto it.

    That said, it’s kind of interesting to play around with what, if anything, *is* hidden or revealed in the film. (I find it interesting that the translation of the title, and my own circling around interpretation, inevitably turns to the passive voice. What is hidden, rather than who or what hides.)

    The discussion around whether the filmmaking apparatus–in the film, or of the film–is really revealed seems to play with various film theories. But I’m not sure Haneke would fit neatly into the anti-Hollywood anti-aesthetic which is all about uncovering the sutured invisibility of filmmaking technology, yet obviously this film so explicitly screws around with how the image we see is really a recorded image that we can’t call him conventional, either.

    I think it’s also interesting that–while the translation “Hidden” captures an element of the film’s gameplaying–another reading might talk about film as a storage space, how meanings pile up in the film’s cache (and are not erased).

    I think as I’ve read along, I’ve grown less interested in trying to nail down who is behind the tapes or what they signify… or, rather, I’m less interested in a conclusive or exclusive answer. I have been puzzling over what other options might be available; I’m like Jeff wondering why that long shot of son Pierrot swimming early on. He’s being coached–with the other boys–not to take a breath, to go deeper on the turn. It’s such a long take, so early on in the film, as we’re just beginning to string together the cues or clues… I wonder how we might displace Georges’ ostensible centrality to the story, and concentrate instead on his kid.

  8. “I’ve grown less interested in trying to nail down who is behind the tapes or what they signify… or, rather, I’m less interested in a conclusive or exclusive answer.”

    That’s all well and good that you are so far BEYOND the most basic mystery of the film Mike.

    Actually, despite the director’s unwillingness to give anything additional away in his interviews, I still find it illuminating that he says it doesn’t matter what you see in the last scene: it works either way, if you see the two characters together or you don’t.

    So in that respect it does seem clear that Haneke himself never intended the film to be read in one way. He could just as easily have left out thee last scene to make sure there was no clear answer at all.

    I’m less concerned with the swimming shot, and more intrigued by the swim meet, where we see Georges and his wife together outside of the fortress of their home – the one time in the whole film. While they sit in the stands wathcing their son with genuine pride, all around them are hand-held video cameras filming the events.

    Ebert (who hasn’t posted here in a while) brought up a point I don’t necessarily agree with, but might lend a little more credence to my idea that the cameraman is the director: “Here is a curious thing: In some of the videos, the camera seems to be in a position where anyone could see it, but no one ever does.” I don’t know that the camera HAS to be in a post where anyone could see it, but if so…

  9. I only just saw this, and like everyone who has posted, I also liked it a great deal. Just a couple of comments/questions:

    1) the videotapes are wrapped in crude drawings: one of a boy with blood on his mouth; one of a cockerel having its head cut off; and one of a boy with blood spurting out his mouth (rather than just on his mouth). These images come from the dreams/memories of Georges. It is hard to see how anyone but Majid or Georges could have known of those details. The correspondence between those memories and the pictures must not be coincidental for Haneke.

    2) In Georges’ memory, Majid is threatening him with an axe. Majid is the aggressor, not Georges. Is this meant to be Georges’ justification for his dislike of Majid, or a version of the lies he told to have him removed? Or what actually happened, in which case why not mention it? What is its status?

    3) I was disappointed by the interaction between, and responses of, Auteuil and Binoche, esp. from a little over halfway through. Do we have any reason to believe their marriage is this fragile? Why is Auteuil so secretive (or rather, why indicate to Binoche that he has a suspect, but not tell her who)? I assume we are meant to believe that Binoche sleeps with Pierre. Why? These responses seem so random, so unintegrated with character.

  10. Haneke, in an interview on the UK DVD release, suggests that Auteuil and Binoche’s friend Pierre may be implicated. (Pierre does seem to dislike Georges at the dinner party). In the same interview he also states that it is maybe no coincidence that the son is named Pierrot.
    It is interesting that even though Georges actually knows who might be sending the pictures and tapes he is still about to question Pierrot when he picks him up from the swimming. Why? Maybe this suggests, deep down, he knows Pierrot is capable of this.

  11. Saw this about a week ago and loved it. I liked it much more than “Time of the Wolf.” I had a lot of thoughts rolling around in my head right after seeing it, all of which I’m not sure if I’ll be able to relate here but I’ll try my best.

    I also found the self-reflexive aspects of the film interesting. I definitely agree that the “reality” of the long shots is constantly undermined and in that way the film is conscious of the limits of its own medium but what I found even more fascinating is the role of the videotape in all this. What tells us that the long shots (very literally as well–those produced by the unknown videographer) are any good is the medium of the videotape itself; by rewinding, stopping, and examining the stills do the characters find any meaning in the sequences. The same can be said about our own viewing experience. This is a film more suited to watching on video/dvd, because for instance if we missed Pierrot meeting Majid’s son in the last shot we can rewind it and look for it. I guess what I’m trying to get at is that there is a kind of anxiety in the film about other media (and other types of representation like the drawings) which parallels the thematic concern with meaning, truth, reality, etc. This makes the idea that the videographer equals the director even more interesting. (The film also reminded me of the “Ring” series where the videotape itself is the menace.)

    The formal questions raised by the film intersect with what I find most fascinating about the film, memory. The plot hinges much on Georges’ memory (and Majid’s too but the film is in the perspective of Georges’–for instance the random insertion of what appears to be moments from the past are in Georges’ perspective) but we can never be quite sure what George does or doesn’t remember, or to what extent his memory is accurate. But regardless of what really happened in the past, the film insists that one try to remember (not to be like Georges’ mother who doesn’t and refuses to try). And here I see a connection between memory and the videotape; just like remembering, the constant rewinding, which allows one to see the sequence anew, seems to make the videotape more potentially meaningful than the film in the theatre. I also like Reynolds’ reading of the “film as a storage space, how meanings pile up in the film’s cache (and are not erased).” So many scenes are literally filled up; the dining room with the book shelves and the studio that echoes it, for instance. This can also be connected to memory, I think.

  12. Saw this last night and have no time to respond in full, but will soon. I really enjoyed it. The only comment I feel compelled to make right now is to point out that Reynolds has Bazin wrong. A film in the absence of cutting is not “revelatory” except in that it reveals the ambivalence of reality. Editing works to remove all ambiguity from the shot (here Bazin is referring to Kuleshov’s famous experiment: a shot of a sad man cut with a shot of a tombstone equals mourning, but the exact same shot of the man cut with a shot of a bowl of soup now equals hunger). Mise-en-scene restores ambiguity. What compels Bazin to make the argument about mise-en-scene in the first place is Citizen Kane, which for him tells us more about the ambivalence of reality than any other film of its time. The subject matter of Kane is ambiguity, and this is precisely why (using Bazin’s famous phrase) the film is unthinkable shot in any other way but depth. Shooting in depth is indeed realistic, but only to the extent that it restores ambiguity to the shot. This is because for Bazin, reality is open-ended and ambivalent–sometimes terrifyingly so.

  13. Well, I see how you could read my hesitant comments–which I only sort of attributed to a half-remembered read of Bazin–as indicating that the long take sets up a “revelation of the real,” ….

    but I think I’d intended something similar to your comments, JB. As I read it, Bazin’s “ambiguity” is indeed revelatory: it’s a sense of the mystery and (as you note) openness of reality, a deeply spiritual sense of human engagement with the world which only the long take, deep-focus can really accomplish. (Versus, I think, the way editing controls interpretation in a manner that is subjective, rather than open to that which is outside one limited viewpoint.) The camera would open up to a wandering eye, to the viewer’s engagement with the possibilities of meaning (caught in the continuous, deep gaze of the camera)… which would be revelatory in the sense of oceanic, spiritual, disencumbered from the limits or assumptions of self. Bazin gets all god-dy, doesn’t he? Metaphysical (a deeper real, not merely physical)?

    But let’s say I’m wrong–I think that misreading or right-reading of Bazin still sets up some useful ways to tackle what Haneke’s up to, doesn’t it? Eh, Brunsy? Jeff and I are teaching this soon, so give us some sugar, baby–we will steal from you without guilt.

  14. I think you can read the last shot of the film, with Pierrot and Majid’s son talking on the steps of the school, as a fantasy–neither a tape nor live. We do have at least one other shot (a long take) that is neither: the shot of Majid being dragged away from Georges’s parents. Like the shot of Majid coughing up blood, it is a product of Georges’s imagination (we can’t say with certainty that the shot of Majid coughing up blood is a memory. I like Sun Hee’s point: we never know if Georges is being honest with himself). There’s no reason why we can’t see the final shot as coming from George’s head. He’s desperate to make sense of it all: “could it be that Pierrot and Majid’s son are doing this to me?”

    If we choose to read the final shot as live, then we can say that Majid’s son and Pierrot were conspiring with one another. My wife is convinced of this: that Majid’s son and Pierrot each had something to gain from taping Georges and Anne’s apartment. Majid’s son, who has learned from his father that Georges drove him away from his foster parents, is determined to catch Georges’s conscience. Pierrot suspects his mom is cheating on his dad and is determined to catch her with Pierre (which he does, in the very first shot–don’t we see Pierre leaving the apartment?). As viewers, we focus on Georges. But Anne, too, is beginning to feel a twinge of guilt. Pierrot accuses her without saying a word: it is Anne who fills everything in.

    Eh? Eh?

  15. And reynolds, I wouldn’t characterize Bazin as god-sy. He’s merely saying that reality is multi-layered. The camera finds complexity in perceptual reality and preserves the free interplay between human beings and the objects around them, whereas analytical editing threatens to “sort it all out.” Bazin was a practicing Catholic. But as film theorist, he was a secularist. Even his essay “Cinema and Theology” is just a piece of genre criticism (Bazin was essentially a genre critic).

    Don’t steal from me, steal from Bazin. But read him first.

  16. Reading? Bah.

    But then again, I’m kind of stealing from others’ takes on Bazin, for instance Peter Mathews’ brief arguments which say stuff like

    –“At the heart of Bazin’s strictures on cinematic realism lies the conviction that the movie camera, by the simple act of photographing the world, testifies to the miracle of God’s creation.”

    or, later on in the same paragraph,

    –“For Bazin, a photograph holds an irrational power to persuade us of its truth because it results from a process of mechanical reproduction in which human agency plays no part.”

    Now, I have read Bazin, but am more than willing to cede to you the authority of a master reading. I’m even willing to cede to you the authority of an idiosyncratic reading, which supersedes the general opinions of Bazin and suggests something other than what many folks would say about him. But you ought to let us know that the Brunsian Bazin may not be what the mass of readers of Bazin might say.

    And this is why I might like to steal from you, despite your patronizing, you big blonde lug–I read Bazin (quickly) in one way, and that one way seems (in the more complicated parsings done by more interested readers) the mainstream reading, so your take strikes me as worth engaging…

    Now back to the flick: I kind of like your reading that the final shot is Georges’ fancy. Right before it, we get him stripping down, closing the windowshades, dropping into bed, pulling up the covers. But this reading–where G is projecting onto the world his own sense of reality–runs EXACTLY counter to the Bazinian view of what a long take can offer up, which is (as you note) an ambiguous “perceptual reality” which is NOT controlled by the camera’s operator but is open to the viewer to engage with. Or, back to Peter Mathews,

    “it’s this objective quality of the photograph – the fact that it is first of all a sensory datum and only later perhaps a work of art – which gives the medium its privileged relationship with the real. It follows that both photography and its spawn, the motion picture, have a special obligation towards reality. Their principal responsibility is to document the world before attempting to interpret or criticise it. For Bazin, this moral duty is ultimately a sacred one – the photographic media are, in effect, preordained to bear endless witness to the beauty of the cosmos.”

    And Haneke’s film sees EVERY perception as, instead, always pre-screened, always a projection onto a world.

  17. Mathews is quoting from “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” one of Bazin’s earliest essays. What Bazin actually says is that photography satisfies “our appetite for illusion by a mechanical reproduction in the making of which man plays no part.” Meaning, simply, that realism in photography stems not from the picture itself but the means of picture-taking. Bazin says that photography has an advantage in virture of as “transference of reality from the thing to its reproduction.” It’s not about a man’s hand, a graceful stroke of the brush. It’s about a click of the shutter. So photography shifts things from the aesthetic to the psychological. Bazin is breaking with Sartre, who was trying to understand photography using aesthetic models derived from painting (i.e. photography is a more realistic form of art, more accurate than even the most skillful rendering with a pen or brush). We don’t experience a painting and a photo in the same way. When we gaze at a photo, we glimpse a fleeting presence.

    The tone of Bazin’s essay is reverential at times. But what Mathews is talking about sounds more like Andre Malraux, to whom Bazin was certainly in debt.

    P.S., for some reason your link is taking me nowhere.

  18. I’ll avoid theory for a moment and return to the shot. It can be read as Georges’ fantasy but I don’t want to close the shot down by that singular reading (nor do I want to give in to the readings that the shot of Majid coughing up blood is solely an image that haunts Georges’; a post-colonial reading could suggest these inserts are some kind of psychic rupture; that the fabric of western civility is being peeled away). It is the final shot’s openness; its desire to force these kind of conversations/debates that makes it so interesting (and confounding). The fact that many attest they saw nothing out of the ordinary in the shot is also worthy of examination (what do we look for when we look at a screen). Something Mike and I come back to again and again in our class are endings. If this is Georges’ fantasy or perhaps some kind of delusional paranoia in which his own family is turning against him then that’s interesting. If it is “real” (diegetic) then it is even more interesting and confusing (why have we been left out of the loop, narratively speaking). If it is Haneke’s omniscience at work; then what is he suggesting. What if it is an allegorical moment; if any social change is going to take place as western culture continues to wrestle with its imperialist past, then it is youth–the next generation whose cultural memory is less bound to these past acts–who will make the change. Or maybe Pierrot will be the first victim in Majid’s son’s grand plan to bring France down to its knees (echoes of Funny Games or even Benny’s Video).

  19. The Mathews stuff–don’t know how/what the link did, but here it is:

    I have a feeling a new thread isn’t necessary–I don’t know… I find it pretty damn interesting, but others may not.

    Jeff and I are doing a unit on self-reflexive films–Sherlock, Jr.; The Player; Peeping Tom; Cache. This stuff will be very useful there, so as always but usually implicitly thanks to all, and esp to John for the theory nudges in the last few posts.

    I have to see Cache again before I can jump back in…

  20. It seems to me that in “redeeming” Bazin, Matthews sanctifies him (it so happens that this is precsiely how the “postmodern” critics condemned him). Matthews is a little heavy on the “Bazin believed film captured the beauty of the cosmos” stuff. This is true enough, but it should be noted that Bazin believed that the photographic image does not testify to the beauty of the natural world alone, but to its ugliness as well. On Stroheim, Bazin writes: “But it is most of all Stroheim who rejects photographic expressionism and the tricks of montage. In his films reality lays itself bare like a suspect confessing under the relentless examination of the commissioner of police. He has one simple rule for direction. Take a close look at the world, keep on doing so, and in the end it will lay bare for you all its cruelty and ugliness.”

    If we want to redeem Bazin (which we should) we should just read him.

  21. i don’t have the mental energy to work my way through your comments, as i should, before posting mine, which i’ll forget if i don’t write it down straight away. but i’ll do it soon.

    some of you know that i’ve been thinking a lot about textual representations of 9/11 and when i saw this last night (finally!) i thought this film is indeed that, a textual representation of 9/11 (well, not directly, but). someone may have pointed out above that the news footage during the scene in which binoche and auteuil start realizing that pierrot has gone missing are about iraq, palestine, and kashmir. whatever haneke says (jeff says in 5. that haneke claims he was not interested in the current political issues; hard to believe when a whole long sequence appearing elsewhere in the film is about italians taking over command of the european contingent in iraq — quite shocking to me, actually), binoche and auteuil move around in a way that always leaves the tv screen in full view, never cover it with their bodies. this news is as central to the scene as their concern over pierrot is. because of this, and other obvious reasons which you certainly discussed, it’s hard not to watch this film in connection to the post-9/11 arab-west conflict. so i’m intrigued. and i am, of course, intrigued by the whole treatment of dissimulation, which, read through the thematic lens of the west’s reaction to anti-arab feelings and behavior worldwide, seems to me very exciting, thought-provoking, and spot on. but i won’t say more without first reading your comments.

  22. Gio – I’d honestly rather hear more of your comments about this film before you read everyone else’s.

    Yours are already more interesting than this Bazin guy who I don’t think even saw the movie.

  23. wow, this thread is interesting. this film has started me thinking about the ambiguity of reality and the inescapability of dissimulation (we lie, all the time). also about the way in which the stories we tell are inflected by our own self-interest. now i see this bazin guy had thought it all out for us well ahead of time. cool.

    georges’ guilt seems to me to be a white man’s guilt. his house, his car, the neighborhood where he lives. his beautiful wife who has a job yet is often filmed in the home, cooking, cleaning out after dinner, serving the guests. his swimming son. and, then, an ugly imperialist past. having been able to get rid of the algerian kid so easily. would this disposal have been equally easy if the other kid, the adopted one, had been white? if georges’ parents had adopted him because they wanted to instead of feeling they had to? the booting happens after majid cuts the rooster’s head, believing georges’ when he tells him this is what his parents ordered. his having been adopted notwithstanding, majid is still a little servant boy.

    how can a film with so many long shots with a still camera be so beautiful? this is beautiful. and it is really a great film. when it came out i got the impression that it was a disturbing, and refrained from seeing it till now. did i invent this? did anyone say the film was disturbing? it’s not disturbing, except in an intellectual sense. hardly something critics would warn viewers about (“you will be intellectually disturbed”). i’ll watch haneke’s other ones, maybe even give the piano teacher another try.

  24. Well, I think the warning about the film’s “disturbing” qualities, beyond its intellectual punch, is all about Majid’s suicide. I’ve only once before seen a whole theater jump, surprised (and in this case horrified).

    Time of the Wolf, Gio–I’m still an apostle for that film.

  25. You want disturbing: Benny’s Video and The Seventh Continent are two early, yet fascinatingly ugly portraits of post-modern (and therefore Western), mediated subjectivities. I think they deserve to be seen. But, like Mike, Time of the Wolf is Haneke’s most accomplished film. Haneke has this thing about dead animals . . . what’s that all about?

  26. some of them taste good?

    cache much better than time of the wolf, which would have been better with some psychotic punks racing around in converted cars terrorizing people for fuel.

  27. I am enjoying these comments. Like Gio and others of you before me, I will be teaching this film in the current semester. [I’m sure there will be spoilers in the rest of my comments.]

    The more allegorical aspects of the film are the ones that are most apparent to me. Among those allegorical aspects, I’m especially struck by the notion of a “failed adoption,” given the paternalist (and more generally, familial) nature of much colonial discourse. France acted as if it had successfully “adopted” Algeria, integrating it into the French state for a time (Algerian soil was considered part of French national territory). I am thinking this could be imagined as the result of France’s having disposed of Algeria’s rightful leaders or “parents,” if we want to pursue rigorously the parallel with Majid’s adoption by the Laurent family. On one level, then, we could say that if (De Gaulle’s) colonial discourse imagined French-Algerian relations through the trope of the family, this film re-imagines the legacies of colonialism through the same tropes. That’s why it shows a family, but a family wrecked by the consequences of the historical misuse of familial discourse in a political context.

    The family trope is refracted through a more short-sighted bourgeois lens with Pierrot’s anxiety over his mother’s allegiances.

    Pierrot’s laps in the pool also lend themselves to symbolic interpretation, as Jeff and Reynolds suggest. The laps are repetitive or obsessive, a meditative activity presented in a meditative or poetic sequence in the middle of a plot-heavy detective-y narrative. I don’t want to be too reductive, and someone will probably call me out on this simplification, but the laps in the pool remind me of the repetitive work mandated by psychic repression.

    Then again, Pierrot is coached, as Reynolds recalls, not to come up for air and to go “deeper, nearer to the bottom.” Could we say that the meditative, poetic sequences of lap-swimming figure *both* the work of repression *and* the work of uncovering repression by delving deeper into the watery subconscious? Maybe that’s a bit of a long shot.

    I am learning a lot from everyone’s discussion of the role of the “long shots” (plans d’ensemble) alongside the narrative (Bazin or otherwise). And I also love everyone’s ideas about a possible conspiracy or alliance between Pierrot and Majid’s (anonymous?) son. I had not even noticed who that was in the last shot, and it had also not occured to me to attribute such an active role to little Pierrot. At the same time, the theory that the director is the cameraman seems a little easier to prove.

  28. Great stuff on Pierrot; it’s the best reading I’ve come across to make sense out of the narrative’s (and the camera’s) fascination with this twelve-year-old.

  29. but seriously, this is a brilliant comment, brilliantly written. repetition compulsion is the trademark of trauma, which fits perfectly well with li’l’s intepretation of the betrayal of the familial.

  30. Did anyone read the piece on Haneke in the The New Yorker. I thought it was very good. Doesn’t surprise me that one of his favorite films is Psycho. Think of the first 35 minutes or so, and how Hitchcock has his lead actress killed before our eyes–an incident totally unrelated to the film we’ve been watching thus far. Curious how Anthony Lane, who wrote the piece, says he would have chosen a different Hitchcock film (what does “a more fair-weather Hitchcock” mean?). But overall, I think Lane understands Haneke very well. I just think he hits his “why does such a nice man make such mean films?” angle too hard. Dumb question, really, as the history of cinema is to a large degree advanced by filmmakers like Haneke (see comment #23).

    So quiet around here these days.

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