(Sony Classics) Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Benichou, Annie Girardot, Bernard Le Coq, Walid Afkir, Lester Makedonsky, Daniel Duval, Nathalie Richard, Denis Podalydes, Aissa Maiga, Caroline Baehr. Directed by Michael Haneke.
I have to admit that as a young man, I was abysmally ignorant of French cinema. I tended to look down on it, feeling that it was too cerebral and too pretentious for my tastes. I demeaned critics who had an appreciation for it, sneering that they didn’t like anything that wasn’t subtitled.
Times change and people change with it. I have grown to embrace French films and French culture. I’ve come to appreciate that not every director in France is making movies that require one to think about and puzzle over until one’s head explodes. Some of the most charming comedies I’ve seen recently are French; some of the most intense action movies I’ve seen have also been French. I’ve even seen some terrifying horror movies that are French. In my opinion, French filmmaking is as alive and vibrant today as it has ever been. It has even prompted me to catch up on some things I used to turn away from.
Cache begins with a video, innocently enough, of the front of an innocuous looking house. People come and go down the street, completely oblivious to the fact that they are on camera. However, the occupants of the house are considerably more puzzled. A videotape has been delivered to them of their home, without any note or explanation. Georges Laurent (Auteuil), who hosts a literary round table discussion program on French television, is puzzled. Why would anyone videotape the front of their home? It’s not an architectural gem – far from it. It’s just an ordinary suburban townhouse. His wife Anne (Binoche) finds it unsettling. The videotape itself is unthreatening – it just seems to indicate that somebody is watching them.
Days go by and additional videotapes arrive. They are of different locations, but of the same nature as the first; an unwavering eye on a place that is of some importance to the Laurents. Coming as well are postcards with unsettling drawings, but again no explanation. The police won’t help them because there are no overt threats.
In one of the videos, a streetscape, Georges is able to freeze-frame one image on which he is able to read a street name. Deciding to take action, he follows the path of the video without telling Anne about it. He eventually arrives at an apartment and the person inside is someone he knows – more I will not say about the identity of this person, other than to say he is not likely the author of the videos. In the meantime, the Laurents life goes on with some degree of normalcy; they give dinner parties, they deal with their exasperating son Pierrot (Makedonsky).
Anne eventually finds out about Georges’ investigations, and feels betrayed. Georges is obviously keeping secrets from her, secrets about his past. The videos continue to arrive. She is unable to trust him; he is unable to fully explain what she wants to know. He is emotionally detached, and growing less and less able to remain in touch with his feelings.
This is as unsettling a movie as you are ever going to see. Director Haneke (who won an award at Cannes for his work here) echoes the looks of the video by keeping his camera stationary most of the time, offering an unflinching look at the Laurents and their lives. It is a fascinating insight into the lives of the Parisian upper middle class, showing a home full of books but with the television constantly on. It’s a slice of life with a side of subversive.
Auteuil and Binoche are two of the best actors in France, and they are dependable time after time. They make a believable married couple – on the same page most of the time, but not always. They have their issues, but they also are drawn close together. Auteuil can be frustrating and difficult to read, but he is exceptional here; he’s genuine and real at every turn; nothing about his performance rings false. Binoche is not just a beautiful movie star; she’s a terrific actress. She is not glamorous at all in this role – she’s a housewife, after all – but her chemistry with Auteuil is undeniable.
This is not the kind of thriller that makes you jump out of your seat. It’s more of an undercurrent of tension that grows slowly and organically. You know something is wrong, something is not quite right and it just raises the hair on the back of your neck, but you can’t put your finger on it…and as the movie progresses as things begin to be pieced together, that feeling of unease grows.
I’m deliberately omitting much of the detail about the movie – this is a movie meant to be experienced as a whole without its secrets being spilled. It’s a movie that isn’t always what it seems to be, and those in it aren’t always who they seem to be. There is much delight in the details, and often you can glean information from seemingly unimportant visual clues. This is the kind of movie that is going to appeal to people who like jigsaw puzzles; it very much feels like something that you have to put together for yourself. The best part is that the image it forms won’t be the same for any two people.
WHY RENT THIS: A slice of life of the French upper class intellectuals that has a disturbing edge. The chemistry between the leads is genuine, and they portray a couple that certainly could exist in real life.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It’s very subtle and can be infuriating trying to figure out where the movie is going. Certain segments of the DVD-renting audience will find it too much work.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a horrifying scene that happens very suddenly and dramatically that may be too much for youngsters.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: There is no music whatsoever in the film save for the theme to Georges’ television show.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A documentary on director Michael Haneke.
FINAL RATING: 8/10