Cinema Signals by Jules Brenner:

Algeria in France:
Transpolitics, Race, and Nation

. "Cache" (aka, "Hidden," "Cache'")

This mystery-suspense thriller keeps something very disturbing hidden. In doing so, it creates considerable tension and an invitation to figure out the identity of the person stalking the hero and sending undecipherable clues. If I don't miss my guess, the clues begin with the very first scene.

It's a static shot of a house exterior, a nice 3-level home with garage and front gate on a residential street. We're looking at it from a street that runs into it. The titles slowly play over the shot and, as they end, a couple of people cross the frame. The camera remains motionless.

But, suddenly, the horizontal lines of a fast-forwarded video give away that we've been watching a videotape. It's in Georges Laurent's (Daniel Auteuil) player, as he and wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) watch in a stupor of mystification over what it might mean. They have a stalker? Who would do this? Georges investigates and finds no place that a camera take could be held so long in a place hidden from inquisitive passersby. In fact, a 2nd tape of the house from the same angle but in the very early morning captures Georges crossing the frame on his way to work unaware of anything.

Georges is the host and moderator on a TV book review program and therefore well known. But who is threatening him? Who has such a grudge as to track down his address? Georges, a man who has kept a deep dark secret for many years has a suspicion but tells no one, not even Anne. She's an editor and, if there's anything that makes the marriage shaky, it's Georges' inability to open up to her. Completing the family is their 12-year old son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky) having his own puberty-related problems and not needing a family crisis to make matters worse.

When the next delivery is made from the unknown source, and it contains a simply drawn face with a smear of red ink emanating from its neck, Georges finally submits to Anne's urging to take the matter to the police. But as though to confirm his lack of confidence in that organ of justice, they have no help to offer until someone is more immediately threatened, as by a direct attack. The Laurents are on their own as the videos from different angles arrive, the drawings with an increasing progression of violence.

This has what we presume to be its intended purpose, which is to arouse Georges from his secrets, to upset his idle, self-satisfied life. His nightmares, which had receded, are revived all too vividly, and we get inside one to see his childhood home and Majid (the Algerian boy that George's parents took in when Magid's died, and almost adopted).

A magnificently played scene occurs when Georges pays a visit on mom (Annie Garardot) who seems none too healthy in her old age, but smart as a fox. Her intuitive search for the true meaning of Georges' visit, reading between the lines of Georges' protestations of insignificance, is enough to earn this exceptional actress an Academy Award. See this film for that scene, if for no other.

As though knowing exactly how to get to Georges, or more specifically, inside him, to the closet where the demons of shame are locked, a video shows up with a shot through a car window as it drives a street known to Georges and Anne, followed by a slow move along a downscale apartment corridor to a door. When Georges investigates the clues, and the grown up Magid opens the door, he's none too surprised, thinking he's found the source of the tapes and the terrorism. It fits. Magid is the only person that he's wronged enough to have induced giving him years-long nightmares and marriage-threatening secrecy.

The tapes have, indeed, shaken up his life and comforts... and have led him to the most terrifying corner of his conscience. They've exposed his obdurate nature and shaken his family, most especially Anne, who has had all she can stand of his inability to share his feelings with her. Binoche is brilliant in portraying an intelligent woman dealing with such clenching stubborness.

Surprises are in store as the mystery is propounded and as writer-director Haneke (An Austrian who makes films in French, "The Pianist," "The Time of the Wolf" -- both with Isabelle Huppert) finds a unique way to break across the divisional line between his camera and his fiction. Whodunit, he asks. Who's making these tapes and driving his central character to face his repressions? Will you figure out the answer?

On the subtextual level, the more profound question is the message that lies at the heart of the drama, the issue that provoked it. One can hardly avoid the overtly obvious parallel between the complacent figure of Georges as representing France itself, which has so much to feel guilty about over its strong-arm treatment of Algeria, in its struggle for independence. Haneke, in perhaps his best observed creation to date despite its allegorical foundation, is perhaps suggesting his film may provoke France to face its nightmarish history much as the tapes provoke Georges to face his.

It's not the camera that's so hidden, it's the man's (and the country's) shame. Haneke, who tends toward big-themed allegory, dramatizes it as human psychology with a highly competent cast. He has devised an original source of mystery buried within a challenging technique.

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                                      ~~ Jules Brenner
                                        Jules Brenner  


Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Very well written
Site rating: 8

This reviewer makes some great observations . But he omits any discussion of sometning I find very significant, the psychological and mental deterioration of the main character.

                                                           ~~ Lawrence 
Very well written, perceptive
This review will influence me to read more by and recommend this reviewer.
I've seen the movie and: I agree with the review.
Site rating: 1

This review is spot on. A terrific movie, a work of art.

                                                           ~~ A. DeGaust 

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Daniel Autieul and Juliette Binoche
The Laurents react as well as they can to their unknown stalker.
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