Saturday, February 18, 2006

Caché (Hidden)

Caché has been widely analyzed over internet. Girish's post, Acquarello's review and comments on the Cinemarati thread Girish links to, Christopher Sharrett's review in Cineaste and Chiranjit's analysis are all excellent starting points.

It is probably too late for an extensive review sparkling with original insights. So continuing from my last post, I would just record a few more random thematic observations. I will ignore the form and techniques Haneke uses to accomplish his thematic goals. Haneke talks about it briefly in this interview.

What follows is full of spoilers, so please do not read this if you have not watched the film yet.

    Systemic distortion of past(history): Georges is extremely skillful in filtering facts with the goal of presenting himself in the best possible light and extracting empathy. First he would not share his hunch about Majid with Anne. Even when he was forced by the tape, Anne only got half-truths. It took Majid's self-destruction for Georges to even admit his archetypically colonial manipulation of lying and encouraging Majid into a justifiable violent act and then using that same violence as an excuse to destroy him. When, rightfully disgusted at his repeated denials, Anne sensed there was more to it and said that, unlike Georges, the tape was at least keeping her informed, she was expressing the angst of all western men and women who are forced to live under color-coded terror alerts and to make some sense out of the deceptive and contradictory half-truths about history.

    Immediately after grudgingly admitting his lies to Anne, while talking to his boss, Georges reflexively switches position and stresses Majid's pathological hatred for his family who has to live under a campaign of terror, with absolutely no idea of what's driving Majid. Finally after Majid's suicide, he stressed that Majid wanted him to be there during the act and it was a sick joke on Majid's part. When Anne asked him twice about what else had happened, he conveniently failed to mention that, before killing himself, Majid clearly stated that he had truly no idea about the tapes . Georges did not want Anne to feel any sympathy for Majid, particularly when Anne had already expressed some doubt about his involvement.

    Clearly Haneke thinks Georges will never be able to take responsibility of his own actions and he is beyond any redemption. At a thematic level, it probably makes his character less complex and interesting. At an allegorical level, I am not sure about the breadth of Haneke's cynicism about middle-aged and older, rich and privileged white men and if I completely share that cynicism.

    Bourgeois manners: Haneke does not possess Buñuel's wit and charm when he observes the absurdities of bourgeois manners, but his precision and economy are devastating. In the middle of events which would totally shake the core of a less refined mortal, Goerges never fails to worry about the impropriety of bothering dinner guests with their personal problems, Pierre's Corsica vacation schedule, exactly what excuse Anne used to get rid of the guests and how they reacted to it.

    Majid: I have come across comments stating that the sense of injustice harbored by Majid against Georges was disproportionate at the plot and psychological level, even though it made sense in the allegorical socio-political context. I think there is a potential trap here to share Georges's perception and perspective of how Majid feels about Georges. Also we must remember that Majid was born and brought up in the farmhouse of Georges's parents. When Georges conspired to evict Majid out of the only place he knew till then, the displacement to an orphanage must have been terribly shocking coming on top of the sudden disappearance of his parents. On a similar note, the criticism of the suicide as an over-reaction tends to overlook the impact of Georges's threats and the psychological effects of being raided and arrested by notoriously brutal and racist French police force. I am not a psychiatrist, but I did not find his reactions as implausible even disregarding the possibility that Georges is still not completely honest about what had exactly happened.

    Pierrot: Going back to Sharrett's review, I don't think I agree with this part -
    withdraws into his room, adorned with Eminem posters and other paraphernalia of the vapid, corporatized youth culture, offering a rebellion that is no rebellion at all .
    I think Haneke is definitely more ambiguous, if not optimistic. I briefly wrote about it in the last post. I am not very familiar with Eminem's music, but the fact that he selects a predominantly black art form probably has some significance here. There was also a big poster of Zidane . Zidane, of course, is the biggest football star in France, but he is also the son of Algerian immigrant parents who came from Kabyle, a region in Algeria which was affected the most by French repression. Zidane grew up in projects very similar to where Majid lived. There was another smaller picture of a black man in his room. It was a brief glimpse and I could not quite catch who it was. It could be Steve Biko, but I am not sure. The selection of these posters is probably not a conscious decision on Pierrot's part - exposure and sympathy to multiple cultures is just a reality for the younger generation growing up in a globalized Europe. Finally, when Pierrot decisively rejected his pathological father's feeble attempts at communication and his self-centered mother's very unconvincing proclamations of love, I did not see that as negative or vapid.

    Majid's son: Apart from Georges's brief flashbacks, I think of the film as chronologically linear. In the last scene, clearly Majid's son first introduced himself to Pierrot and then wanted to have a quick and private chat with him. The gesture of stretching his arm to Pierrot's shoulder is touching, particularly after the hostility and threats he endured from Georges. I think it is not unnatural for Majid's son to want to meet the boy who he and his father supposedly kidnapped. I see possiblities of fraternity and nascent communication here, to quote acquarello.

    Gasps: The two violent scenes that can not fail to produce a loud shocked gasp are not sadistic or nihilistic or pornographic. It is unfortunate that most of mainstream western media deprives its audience of the real images of war and violence that must induce this shock - particularly when the wars are fought in their name, for their security and spending their money.

    Class relations: The low-rent project where Majid lives is on Lenin Avenue. Do race and immigration make any communication between classes even harder? Does the fact the a majority of the underclass in US and Europe are blacks, illegal Hispanics, Arabs and North Africans make the white middle and upper class even less sympathetic than what class interests would normally demand? These rhetorical questions are not restricted to the context of western colonization. In India, the class interests and oppressions are both masked and exacerbated by caste, language, religion and gender instead of race.
    India: In the sequence of TV images, the last one is that of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, standing next to each other, announcing the formation of a new coalition government led by Congress. Following a series of images of violence and chaos in the middle east, is it a positive image of a democratic government, led by a Sikh and a Catholic Italian, elected to rule a country with 800 million Hindus and with the second largest Muslim population in the world? Or is the infatuation of Indians with the Gandhi last name and white skin, a continuation of colonial hangover - just a variation of a previous image of Barbara Contini, another Italian, coming under British command to rule Iraqi province of Nassiriyah? Like everything else in this film, you will have to decide for yourself.

Haneke invites and provokes his audience to ask questions and to revisit their answers - to start a discourse within themselves and with others. From cursory browsing and googling, it appears that, with Caché, he is quite successful. Given the state of the distribution of foreign films in USA, a gross close to 2 million is not too shabby either. It is a shame that in spite of its strong per-theater numbers, Caché will not get a much wider distribution.

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