Michael Haneke’s Caché and the The Politics of Privacy
Dan North‘s lecture given at the University of Exeter in one 49 minute video. Audio (he doesn’t appear..) with slideshow, movie extracts, quotes, etc. The students had watched Caché before the lecture.
Bourgeois Nightmares -Gilberto Perez on Michael Haneke
LRB, Vol. 34 No. 23 · 6 December 2012
Funny Frames: The Filmic Concepts of Michael Haneke
A Review by Jeremiah Ambrose, Trinity College Dublin
Jon Davis (2003)
This GoogleBook has available almost the whole of the chapter on Caché (Chapter 5: Shame and Guilt – Caché, and the whole of the 12 page introduction.
by Yun-hua Chen
explains what the book is about:
* It proposes an ethical theory of spectatorship
* Wheatley, in her examination of Haneke’s authorial persona, poses the rarely reflected-upon question of the origin, function and particularity of unpleasure in Haneke’s films.
An unpleasure profound enough, perhaps, to make one decide not to watch certain of his films. I’ve seen Caché, Code Unknown and The Piano Teacher, in that order, and don’t think I’m going to watch Funny Games or Benny’s Video. My final Hanke might be The White Ribbon.
The book cover :
Existing critical traditions fail to fully account for the impact of Austrian director Michael Hanke’s films, situated as they are between intellectual projects and popular entertainments. In this first English-language introduction to, and critical analysis of his work, each of Haneke’s eight feature films are considered in detail. Particular attention is given to what the author terms Michael Haneke’s ‘ethical cinema’ and the unique impact opf these films upon their audiences.
Drawing on the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant and Stanley Cavell, Catherine Wheatley introduces a new way of marrying film and moral philosophy, which explicity examines the ethics of the film viewing experience. Haneke’s films offer the viewer great freedom whilst simultaneously imposing a considerable burden of responsibility. How Haneke achieves this break with more conventional spectatorship models, and what its far-reaching implications are for film theory in general, constitute the priciple subject of this book.
Code Unknown 
Full title: Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys
“A feature film is twenty-four lies per second.”
— Michael Haneke
There are an awful lot of these, so here a small selection.
Code Unknown: An Auto-Dialogue Girlish
From which there are links to a blog-a-thon on Code Unknown including:
– from blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule,
and an untitled post by film-maker David Lowery in Drifting: a brief, clear-sighted over-view.
the imdb user reviews of Code Unknown, which go into many pages (66 reviews in all) and from which one can glean many ideas, and different ways of explaining the same thing.
for example dbdumonteil writes:
Shortly before the incident when Jean wants to go to Anne’s flat, the latter tells him the code of her flat: “if you want to enter my flat, the code of my building is B4718”. I’m not sure whether it’s the right code but the building could epitomize a metaphor of a man’s life. Every man’s life is similar to a building kept generally by a code. The title of the film is rather easy to understand. The famous “unknown code” is a blocked access to any character’s real life. This code is unknown for the strangers who surround him or her and as a consequence they don’t known anything of his or her real life. It’s this situation that is represented in Haneke’s movie.
Michael Haneke in Strictly Film School
This is my second Haneke after Caché . Post: FILM HANEKE Caché
A pretty strange sensation to see Maurice Bénichou
as the Arab man in the train who passes his glasses to Anne at the moment when he dares to confront the boy, and Walid Afkir
(above in the part of his son in Caché, squaring up to George in a TV studio corridor) playing the teenage Arab who taunts Juliette Binoche in Code Unknown. Both in this earlier film playing different parts to those they took in Caché, yet seeming for a moment as if they are playing the same parts at an earlier stage in the same story : the tube train (metro) scene where Anne is harassed almost as if it might have been a moment in the earlier life of the Anne of Caché. Though, of course, in Caché the taunter and the passive man of Code Unknown are father and son. And it doesn’t look like they are related in Code Unknown! But who knows what is in Haneke’s mind?
Even if these films are watched chronologically, rather than the other way round, it might pop into mind that these two sets of characters were in some way part of an on-going story. They are, in a way, because they are taking the parts of the same type of characters: the marginal immigrant from North Africa and French-born son. Though one thing that is apparent from both films is that Haneke wants us to see that the boys in both films are French by birth, and yet still perceived as foreign, a threat, to the George and Anne’s (and Police) of the world. The difference between the two films is that in Code Unknown the boy is seen to be behaving inappropriately. A young, French-born Arab taunting a middle-class white woman in a metro train. With added irony – it is an immigrant (going by his age) not a white passenger who in the end defends her. part of Haneke’s purpose here, resumably is to show the races just don’t mix. For dramatic tension the North African man come to Anne’s defence once the absue is over and the two hooligans are about to leave the metro carriage. He squares up to the main culprit, but one feels after the damger has passed. In the horrible seconds, which seem like minutes, before he does so, he sits passively looking forward, not engaging as do the other passengers. We as viewers know full-well he and the other pasengers are petrified too. If they haven’t experienced a mugging, they know all about it from the media and the the prevelence of guns and knives.
This ‘paralysis of non-intervention’ is a universal theme: London, Paris, New York: you might get yourself stabbed or shot in any big city. Even if you are morally and ethically aware of the need to act, it is ‘epoched’ for your own survival. So, although a French film with French issues, that bit travels easily to audiences from other cultures. In a Hollywood movie the good guy stands up a lot earlier.
In Caché, neither the Arab man or his French-born son are seen to be doing anything to upset George, except – in the case of the young man – to have the confidence to be able to defend himself verbally against accusations from George of being involved in the ‘harassment by video’. The father defends himself – but in a more passive way, stating simply and repeating it, that it wasn’t him – indicating that he feels less confident than his French-born son about his position in French society. The older man has of course, we see, clearly been beaten down by the circumstances of his life in France. He probably hasn’t got a job or any prospect of one any more, living in the despiriting enviroment of the banlieu government housing blocks.
If you have watched Caché, you will know the father’s final response. Both the simple denials, and the final shocking act, are the things that make those who watch these films who have read about France and its colonial past, reflect back on the gory history of relations between France and Algeria. Read Alistair Horne’s The Savage War of Peace, Algeria 1954-1962, to learn about the number of Algerians who died over the whole of France’s control of Algeria from 1830.
In the first long scene in Code Unknown, where many of the character’s lives cross – they are almost artificially put in conjuction with each other for a moment by the will of the director in his long tracking shot up and down the Boulevard – the tension is created by the assumption amongst the whites, including Anne, the two policemen, and onlookers that the young black African man, Amidou, (possibly here, taking the part of the born in France generation) has been accosting the brother of Anne’s boyfriend. The one person who knows the truth – the Romanian begger, Maria, who was at the centre of the incident – can’t speak French, but in any case, wanders away from it because she fears being caught for being an illlegal immigrant. Even when the young black man, Amidou, explains that Maria witnessed the whole thing, pointing her out as she tries to scurry away, she is only dealt with by the police for her flouting of the law, not to find out from her who caused the fisticuffs between the two young men.
We later learn that Amidou has been roughed up at the police station, but not that guilt has been established. All very nastily racist. One is tempted to say that this is particularly French racism. We have seen racism in US and European films, and on real streets, but they all have their own special features.
If you watched Caché before Code Unknown, you will immediately recognise the same rising anger in yourself recollecting the scene where George the TV presenter, gets angry with a black cyclist in the street, who appears to have done nothing wrong except cycle a bit too close to the two pedestrians, George and his wife Anne. Tellingly, in Code Unknown the young black man is pepared to argue back – here with the Police – just as the Walid Afkir character in Caché does with George. In that case it’s over the innocence of his father, who unlike his son, won’t really defend himself against George’s repeated accusations that he was behind the sending of ‘staking’ videos.
Whichever way round you watch these films, these scenes seem like reprises of each other – a standard confrontation between indigenous white and immigrant (or first generation French-born) black – all rather ugly. In the final scene in Caché there is a hint that the younger generations might be getting on better than their parents, but there is no such a resolution in Code Unknown. The general feel is of communities being widely separated. This is exemplified by the African family, who are given ample opportunity in long scenes to show how they live very un-French lives, strikingly shown by the women’s respect for the taxi driver (either as the head of the family, or as an elder of the community, or both), and how the mother of Amidou resorts to asking the elder/husband to interpret dreams she has had in what looks like voodoo minus the bones. The idea seems to be that [a] she hasn’t got out of her old superstitions despite living in a modern European democracy, [b] that this approach is all she has in a world where the immigrant is not treated on a par with the white.
In Caché, the middle-class intellectuals talking over diner about the iconic, real 1962 incident in Paris in which many Algerian protesters were shot by the Police and dumped in the Seine. There is no shame of guilt amongst the exclusively white diner ensemble. The historical incident has come to the fore in the film because George remembers the two immigrants who his parents looked after and had working on their farm, who had never come back from the demo.
Dennis Cozzalio’s description and analysis of Code Unknown is a good, clear starting point. Though there are a range of online responses to the film which tackle it in different ways. This tends to back up my idea that when you think about Haneke films you don’t often take them from the beginning and work through to the end.
makes a set of brief comments under 5 headings. In the first he neatly summaries the film:
….complexity or sublimity of Haneke’s meditation on racism and classism (amongst other things).
Handy, too, for the set of stills and his cinematographic analysis of the beggar scene.
I haven’t come to a overall conclusion, except that Haneke is not a director for standard movie resolutions. Or even explanations. Starting at the beginning and working my way through describing everything in the film has no appeal at all. Once you’ve read a dozen summeries and analyses by others, it seems rather superfluous. Although each viewer has his or her own particular places of interest, as I have.
It seems more fruitful to grab scenes and work to the centre (or the edge?), as it were. Like a mountain one thinks of climbing because it is there, having blog space means one tends to make marks of some sort, but leave gaps to add more.
Elbert Ventura in a post, Helping Hand, tries the swimming pool scene. He begins with the discrepancy between the photo on the DVD cover
and what happens in the film (though strangely doesn’t begin with a graphic of it (above) to bring home the point, saying :
The cover art for the home video release of Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown is an eye-grabber: Juliette Binoche, head above water in a swimming pool, letting out a scream. Certain to draw in both the discerning and the dilettante, the cover is also something of a fraud. Code Unknown not only plays out nothing like the cover art—it’s the antithesis of it. That catchy picture is the work of either a really cynical distributor or a really prankish one.
He then includes a set of stills of the swimming pool scene to demonstrate these shots are cut conventionally, not in the long takes that are present elsewhere in the film. The reason he gives for this is:
Cutting within the scene, Haneke reverts to conventional film grammar—and, in the process, calls attention to the scene’s artifice.
It doesn’t take long to realize that we aren’t watching a scene in Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown but from something tentatively called “The Collector,” a film within Haneke’s film. In Code Unknown, Binoche plays an actress named Anne; in “The Collector,” Anne plays a woman in distress in what seems like a thoroughly generic thriller. The wonder of the pool scene is how Haneke takes that most mundane of tropes—the shot-reverse shot—and makes it strange, even revelatory. Juxtaposing it against a succession of Bazinian long takes, Haneke’s simple cut becomes a formalist critique of cinema.
You don’t have to be a professsional film-maker to know though there are many tricks to be played on the viewer – for one’s own cinematic pleasure and/or for the purposes of a storyline. In the end there are limits to how confused one can make the audience using story, structure and cinematography. If Haneke filmed and edited the film-within-a-film (s) identically to the rest of his film, we really would not know what was going on: he already projects the ‘story’ as a set of vignettes: sampling life: “This is what I saw of it, you might have seen it differently if you had been around at the time.”
Watching that sequence (scene 35 of 43), which is the last film-within-film, we certainly might start ( because there is time in the shot) by asking where that man in the pool comes from – he’s not been in the film up to now – who is the kid and what is she doing in a penthouse swimmimg pool? We might at first incorrectly assume it was just another part of Anne’s life Haneke was introducing almost at random. Was it something before or after? After all there are random cuts in the film that would put Godard to shame, so why not an unexplained scene from somewhere else in her life which bears no relation to the on-going events?
Once Anne has acted in a shot from her acting work (scene 4 ) we are cued to expect she might be in film-within-film again. Anne is taking the part of someone who seems to be locked in something like a rusty container. (It turns out to be a room that has had its windows blocked off – in one shot Anne is shown opening a shutter to a newly bricked up window.) Before she starts acting, she looks towards the camera in medium shot, listening to the director’s instructions from off-frame. Then we get her acting/emoting in close-up. There is a sharp cut – in the middle of her acting – to George the photographer’s brother sitting at a table eating.
I rather like the idea that the character Anne, played by the actress Binoche, taking a part in film[s] within a film, can magnificently express a heightened emotion that she might not be able to do as the character Anne in her own story. A good example of her real-life ineptitude being the supermarket shots with her boyfriend.
The next time Anne is shown doing some acting is scene 14. Almost immediately there is a shot from behind a mise en scene film crew, filming her as she enters a room as a character being given a viewing of a flat.
It is not until three-quarters of the way through Code Unkown that we see a scene (#36/43) of Anne dubbing sound onto the film. At first we might think it is Haneke directing the part Anne acts, but soon we see it’s a film director off shot in a film-within-a-film. We recognise someone else is directing this film-within-a-film, but see Haneke created, scripted and directed him it and him. Without slipping into unnecessary preciousness, we might say Haneke is responsible for his own style of filming and editing, and the director character (s) who control(s) the films with the film is ‘in control’ of his standard filming and editing style. They are from separate film worlds. Even though everything in the film is Haneke’s.
I have a yen to to start in detail with Luc Delahaye’s “L’Autre” photographs. According to Darren Hughes in Long Pauses, the photographs in Code Unknown of the passengers in the metro carriage that George, the war photographer, takes surreptitiously from a camera hanging from his neck using a hidden cable release, are those of Delahaye. [wiki:Delahaye] A set of 90 were published in a book. Michael Fried in AmericanSuburbX writes of them:
The cumulative effect as one turns the pages is hallucinatory in its intensity: The sameness of the compositional schema throws into relief not only the physiognomic distinctness of the individual subjects but equally their uniform determination, as it comes to seem, to absent themselves as much as possible from their immediate circumstances.
Haneke goes two stages back: we do not just see (and react to) the photographs as we might in a gallery or coffee table book. He shows us a montage of George’s Kosovo war photographs with a voice-over of George reading a letter out. ( I was reminded at this poit for some reason of how Don McCullin went off war photography.) Then we see George (scene #24/43) sitting in Anne’s flat alone, relaxed, taking his time carefully preparing to go out to take photographs. He tightens a nut on the camera mounting, then practices putting the camera round his neck, with the strap adjusted to position the camera high up on his chest, checking in the mirror to see what it looks like (from the point of view of the oerson whose photo is being taken).
Anyone who uses a camera regularly in different ways might have felt a slight constriction at the unnaturally high position of George’s camera, wondering what he wanted to take pictures of. (For some reason I can’t explain, I was reminded of seeing a framed portrait of Nasser strapped high like that on the chest of an angry Baghdad University student we knew in the days just after the 1958 Iraq Revolution). But of course it means only one thing, he plans to take close-ups. Taking candid shots say from over 5 meters away, it’s fine to sling the camera at belly level, which feels comfortable, points the camera parallel to the ground, and does not look as if one is necessarily going to take a photo, just that the camera is being carried. There is no need for a cable release. No one notices you taking pictures because you are not holding the camera up to eye level.
George attaches a cable release which he hides under his clothes and practises using it. We hear the shutter release clicking. In the next scene, we see why he wants the high position when he sits down in the underground train carriage. This is confirmed by showing the line up between the camera and the head of the first person to sit opposite him with a camera angle over the woman’s left sholder. Even so, it might have to have been a wide angle lens rather than 50mm, for him to be sure to get the heads in his photographs without framing by eye.
There is another way of cutting these scenes:leaving out George’s preparation for photography. First we see the war photographs and the commentary in the form of George’s letter, then we cut to George with a camera round his neck walking down a carriage to take a seat opposite a woman. It is a big jump, and requires a lot more filling in of gaps, but we can see immediately he is doing something different from what we assume is his metier, the war photographer. And we would ask why and come to a conclusion. Putting in the build up stages, as Haneke does, allows the viewer to wonder what he is going to photograph, and then have it either confirmed or refuted by the shots of him taking clandestine photographs. And finally individual photographs of Delahaye’s of commuters are presented one by one.
Delahaye is quoted as saying:
(If you find the print on this snip too small right mouse it into another tab)
There is a much more nuts and bolts way to think about what a photograph is. Part of this is that it can lack a context. Whereas in Code Unknown both text and film have a before and after, an individual still — unless for example, it is a part of a set of closely consecutive frames show side by side which shows some sort of progression — has largely been removed from its context. It has also been removed from its context because it is a frame of a particular section of a view that existed at the time the photograph was taken. The shot in the film of the girl lying on the ground with what looks like a dead dog (this seems to be Luc Delahaye’s work, too) could have been framed slightly to the left, and standing to the side of the girl might be a western film crew, filming her distress close up. That is very different picture from what seems like desperately lonely girl needing help and support, and therefore a universal image.
A photograph on an art galley wall might have an inscription, say, Sarajevo 1993, which is like removing a piece of reality in the form of a still photograph – a particular place, a particular time – and stitching to it a keyword to re-evoke a context. But what each individual evokes when seeing the word Sarajevo will be different. Someone who had read and seen a great deal about Sarejevo and the Bosnian War will have a rich context, while the person who has no idea where Sarajevo is, will have little. That does not mean to say the photograph will not have an impact for the person who knows nothing of the place where it was taken, but it will be a very different experience. A dead body in Sarejevo is not the same as a dead body in a Chicago street because it has a different story behind it. If a photograph has no label, the viewer try to work out the context.
To say ‘if an image is powerful enough, it resists us, if, by its obscure coherence, part of it escapes our understanding, then it means that something has been won from reality’ must be understood in that sort of context as well.
A photograph has a set of correspondences with the real event it attempts to record, but all the signs and signifiers of the scene are not there in the photograph (for example, the smell and sound as missing), though cues to three-dimensionality and questions of figure-and-background are still available. These have to be ‘added back in’ by the person looking at the picture, from information in it, or simply by a process of mental evocation from sources outside the photograph.
Maybe Haneke thinks he can do the same thing with film that Delahaye thinks his photographs achieve. Hence, for example, he can cut off shots before their natural endings. to ‘win something from reality‘.
Without being able to explain why I see Haneke’s films (I’ve seen Cache and Code Unknown so far) as barometric films as opposed to others which might be termed chronometric.
An aneroid barometer with the moveable needle left where it was set 24 hours before, shows whether the air pressure has dropped or risen in that time and by how much. But a barometer without a moveable needle has this vital piece of information missing. A baromoter without a manual needle does not tell us whether the pressure has gone up or down and by how much in that 24 hour period, unless the readings have been recorded at regular intervals. The visual impact of seeing the two pointers compared is immediate, whereas referring to recorded data to work out if the current reading is higher or lower, is not. The fine detail is still missing from this image, however, because in the set time (say 24 hours) the moveable needle has been left in position, and the barometric pressure might have gone up and down and then back up again.
In a sense, Haneke’s cut of the clandestine camera scenes has shown fingers moving the two needles together, then cut to show the barometer with the needles apart. Which is not the same of two shots of a clock, showing time has advanced. The pressure changes are an indicator of what weather might be coming. And weather is a complex phenomenon. A clock shows time has passed, and indicates that something might have happened in the interval, that we don’t see or know about.
 Algeria Deferred: The Logic of Trauma in Muriel and Caché
Matthew Croombs, Carleton University, Canada
 Scope 16 February 2010
Cassell’s French-English Dictionary
“I try to construct stories so that several explanations are possible, to give the viewers the freedom to interpret. I do it by everything I don’t show, and through all the questions I raise and don’t answer. That way, the audience doesn’t finish with the film as quickly as if I’d answered everything.”
— Michael Haneke
“Cache” is one of those films that I instantly hated from the bottom of my heart for being incredibly pretentious while having the substance of a mediocre high-school essay
—a pseudonymous ‘novakant‘.
Reviews and Analysis
These reviews and analyses contain spoilers. I’m trying to gather together here some of the better ones. The reviews and more academic papers have got a bit jumbled as more have been added. None are in order of importance.
Three additions on 24 January 2010:
Two recent posts posts by Jim Emerson, What is hidden in Caché? and, The Haneke MacGuffin: What is the mystery? and a long essay in Cinephile by Seung-hoon Jeong, Gaze, Suture, Interface: The Suicide Scene in Michael Haneke’s Caché. Personally, I haven’t the slightest idea what this Lacanian stuff means, and I don’t suppose many do.
Two more reviews added May 2014:
Caché (Haneke, 2005) and the concept of Realism from Cultural Zeitgeist 3 November 2102 [link from Cache/ Hidden (2005)… Haneke’s physical and ideological silence]
A wiki:The Fright of Real Tears, which refers to a book by Zizek, The Flight of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski between Theory and Post-Theory, does help a little with this if you don’t want to spend half your life on it, but get some basic idea, including the term suture. There is an interesting section in the wiki, The Fictional Nature of Reality and the Art of Kieslowski, for those interested in Kieslowski. And a link to an article by David Bordwell, from the other camp, titled, Slavoj Zizek: Say Anything, taking on Zizek’s book.
The paper has the benefit however, of a Vimeo of the initial part of the suicide of Majid (French, no subtitles) for purposes of reminding us where the camera is positioned (though the full effect of the static camera can only be experienced by seeing the whole shot) and four stills from the film. Though the final one of the credits is not particularly helpful because it doesn’t show either of the sons.
COTA Award for Best Title for a Review of Caché goes to […..pause] :
The Discreet Masochism of the Bourgeoisie by A O Scott in NYT. Unfortunately the review itself doesn’t stand up to the promise of the title. Scott does mention the BoBo business directly, whereas others don’t. Bobo link at the bottom.
Hidden (Caché) by Peter Bradshaw [Guardian, 2006]
Final paragraph succinctness:
Hidden is Michael Haneke’s masterpiece: a compelling politico-psychological essay about the denial and guilt mixed into the foundations of western prosperity, composed and filmed with remarkable technique. It is one of the great films of this decade.
Review: Caché (Hidden) [Christopher Campbell, Cinematical]
Header still photo from Caché of Georges at his desk, Anne on the phone, and the TV showing war footage. Mention of ’61 massacre and Papon: links to page on 1992 documentary: Drowning by Bullets.
Caché [Ken Hanke]
Caché : Smile You’re on Candid Camera [Marty Mapes]
Caché (Hidden) [Frank Swietek, Ass. Prof. Hist., U of Dallas]
Caché [Lon Harris, Crushed by Inertia blog]
Maybe he muses Monty Python’s sketch : Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things does the job quicker. ( “I have just discovered, gentlemen,” Graham Chapman announces as club president, “that this entire room is surrounded by film.”)
Hidden (Caché) Ben Greener [in MusicOMH]
We love Hidden. But what does it mean? [Jason Solomons, Guardian]
Caché (Hidden) A review by Michael Farman.
Et Alors? Michael Haneke’s Hidden. A short review by Grahame Hobbs in MovieMail to accompany the advert for the Artifical Eye DVD.
Cache [Robert Ebert, 2006]
The Times names Haneke’s ‘Caché’ the decade’s best. [from In Contention film blog.]
Caché’ tries to dig into what lies beneath, but comes up empty [Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle]
….we’re expected to see this bad thing he did — for personal, not racial or political reasons — as the story of French colonialism (!) writ small.
Flashbacks [John Petrakis, Christian Century, 21 Feb 2006]
“Hidden/Cache” by Michael Haneke [Konstantinos Vassilaros]
Guilt, lies and videotape [Mark lawson, Guardian, 21 Jan. 2006]
Hidden Meanings in Haneke’s Mystery Lie Deeper than You Think [Tim Milfull, MC Reviews]
Hidden (Caché) [ Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat ]
Cache and the Post-Post-Modern Film – The Search For Authenticity [A blog post from politick]
Caché (Hidden) – Michael Haneke [Zettel]
A View to a Kill By Adam Nayman
Long post and long comments stream.
” Michael Haneke’s most explicitly political film, the French psychological thriller Caché (2005), is also his most self-reflexive, obsessed as it is with the social impact of media images on the real world. Throughout, the film exposes how narrative devices in the mass media advance specific political agendas and interpretations. While interrogating taken-for-granted storytelling elements of the film form in particular, Caché also critiques the media construction of racial identity, and addresses the larger issue of contemporary race relations in the Western world. As an allegory about the failure of Algerian assimilation into a multicultural melting pot of French identity, it highlights the ongoing tensions between the former colonialist White culture and the once-colonized ethnic culture of Algerians struggling to coexist in France. In all these was, Caché examines present-day neo-colonial racism and Eurocentric projections of the past, focussing on the media’s role in channeling and reinforcing hostilities that foreclose any possibility of moving beyond racial divisions.”
Ogrodnik’s argument focuses on George’s attitude to other races (hidden, but exposed by the pressures of believing he is being got at by one of them he used to know as a child…), and the shift in the audience’ s sympathy towards the immigrant characters. Majid’s son, to confuse matters, or to make them clearer (is it race not immigration? Or both?) is the second generation born in France.
The film doesn’t show George’s attitude to other classes in French society, except in so much as he and his friends are cloistered by class and success from them. The way the film is structured makes Georges isolated from all ordinary French people: he doesn’t go into a bar and order a drink, but buys a drink from a dispenser in a completely empty shop; the Laurents don’t even have a servant to whom they they might be shown relating. He may well, for all we know, be as unempathetic to the lower orders in general as he is to the immigrants. Does the way Haneke shows Georges’ response to a (hidden) threat mean this is how we are expected to assume all people of his type would respond similarly?
A point missed by commentators is that George’s parents were perhaps not what he has become. That is, although they were French Algerian’s and racists by default, France has since had the added effect of Le Pen’s Front National (interestingly he was an intelligence officer in Algeria 1n 1957, accused of torture). But it was 1961 and there weren’t so many Arab immigrants in those days – is it suggesting the racism has developed in the succeeding decades? The parents were prepared to go to Paris in 1961 to look for the missing parents of Majid – recent immigrants from Algeria – and think about adopting their child when it is discovered they have probably been killed during the FLN protests.
In talking to his elderly mother at the family home, George evokes no enthusiasm in her for the subject, which she sees as in the past. We are left wondering whether she really doesn’t care about Majid, or whether her guilt and shame prevents her from articulating any concern. She doesn’t even know who George is talking about at first, or so she tells him. Though she asks Georges what he is thinking – and he refuses to tell her much – we get the impression this is a sort of collusion. They have both forgotten or hidden in different ways. Georges, unlike his mother, has had cause to think (and dream) about his past because of something that has recently happened. But then George’s mother may have no memory of these past events, which contrasts nicely with his clear remembrance – necessary in order for him to feel shame or guilt.
In reality someone of Georges mother’s age would know very well how to relate the Magreb Arabs of the modern era living in France with the history of Algerian crisis of the 50s and 60s. The point is many of the whites were themselves pieds-noirs (French born in Algeria), or their descendants — people who lost their jobs, properties and businesses and fled Algeria as a result of the independence struggle and eventual formation of an Algeria free of colonial control — but were in their turn scorned by the indigenous French. Algerian and France went back over a century to 1830. The best place to find all the details is the definitive book: A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-62 by Alistair Horne . This was the book all the top people in the U.S. were reading in 2003, including Donald Rumsfeld. The consensus seems to be they thought this might be a manual for what to do with an Iraqi insurgency based on the French Army’s experience, but of course it’s a warning what not to do.
Even the most cursory research shows how there was a massive influx of over 1 million Pieds-noir back into France after Algerian independence in 1962. As the wiki on Pieds-noir says:
Upon arriving, they suffered ostracism from the Left for their perceived exploitation of native Muslims and for having caused the war, thus the political turmoil surrounding the collapse of the French Fourth Republic. In popular culture, the community is often represented as feeling removed from French culture while longing for Algeria. Thus, the recent history of the pieds-noirs has been imprinted with a theme of double alienation from both their native homeland and their adopted land.
The Pied-Noir relationship with France and Algeria was marked by alienation. The settlers considered themselves French, but many of the Pieds-Noirs had a tenuous connection to mainland France, which 28 percent of them had never visited. The settlers encompassed a range of socioeconomic strata, ranging from peasants to large landowners, the latter of whom were referred to as grand colons.
In Algeria, the Muslims were not considered French and did not share the same political or economic benefits. For example, the indigenous population did not own most of the settlements, farms, or businesses, although they numbered nearly 9 million (versus roughly one million Pieds-Noirs) at independence. Politically, the Muslim Algerians had no representation in the Algerian National Assembly and wielded limited influence in local governance. To obtain citizenship, they were required to renounce their Muslim identity. Since this would constitute apostasy, only about 2,500 Muslims acquired citizenship before 1930. The settlers’ politically and economically dominant position worsened relations between the two groups.
If one is able to take in all this extra-film detail, or know about it before watching it, it isn’t difficult to see how George’s lack of sympathy for Majid ties in well with the callous way the French decimated the Algerian population during their rule and in their attempt to stop the FLN. The loss of Algeria was seen as massive blow to French pride. Something like 200,000 French originally settled in Algeria. Paradoxically, when the descendants of these farmers needed to return to the mother country after Algerian independence, the French were not too keen on them, hence the term Pied-Noir.
It’s well worth reading the wiki entries on Algeria’s colonial past. Telling facts such as how much land the white settlers held compared to the Arabs add to the impact of the film. Probably best to watch the film first and then read the background for a second watching. Though of course it’s in French and most French will be fully aware of this stuff. At the bottom amongst the list of notable pied-noirs is Daniele Auteuil, perhaps more famous for his role in Jean de Florette, who takes the part of Georges.
Though Georges’ lack of concern for Majid – when he finally meets him again for the first time since childhood – might hint that this is the way these type of people think anyway about the Majids of the world, to me this makes it as much a specific problem Georges has, both in how he sees he has to maintain his middle-class position, respectability and influence and – exposed progressively in the film – in his revealed racial attitudes. The only problem is the sole point of reference to this rather to be forgotten past is the reference at the dinner party to FLN demonstrations in Paris in ’62. It does not open out into a recognition that the French killed about a million Arabs in the course of their colonisation of Algeria from 1830. It was a brutal colonisation and so there really was a lot to hide! I begin to wonder whether this process of hiding and not remembering is peculiarly French. That is to say, the German’s have a lot to feel guilty about but it covered roughly 1933-45, whereas the French had a couple of centuries to both absorb and deal with their past, which might explain how deep rooted the racism is. Haneke is an Austrian, so it is an outsiders view. What films are there made by French film-makers who deal with these issues?
The word scapegoating is not mentioned, but the audience is allowed to examine whether this might be a species of the genus, and so refer itself, during or after the film, to Great Scapegoats of Our Times.
Whereas Georges’ parents lived in the era of the last Algerian War – which led finally to independence after a struggle that began post-1945 – and might be expected to have anti-Algerian sentiments, as was common among the French at the time who were losing an important colony (and being inundated with large numbers of pied noirs as a result, which is another, though interesting story) – George was a very young child at the time. One suspects if he now has strong racist feelings, particularly about Magreb Arabs, for example, or maybe anyone from Africa, it is something he has learnt growing up in France in the intervening years: that many like him will feel threatened by the large immigrant population, and/or that is it being suggested that it is a spasm of his type: he has been conditioned to react like this, unthinkingly, because of his status and position in life. This is not certain: I would refer anyone thinking about this to the attitude of many French to the plight of French Jews at the time of Vichy. Though individuals did help individual Jews, there was no massive outcry about their transport to Germany. Indeed, the notorious Milice cooperated with the German authorities in rounding them up. This has been dramatised in many films depicting the period. Going beyond this there is the history of French far-right groups such as Action Française.
Sarkozy himself, as interior minister in 2005 when the race riots took place in many cities in France, called the rioting French youth racaille [wiki: 2005 civil unrest in France].
A woman resident of an estate hit by rioting asked Sarkozy:
His response was:
Vous voulez qu’on vous débarrasse de cette racaille, on va le faire. (You want us to get rid of these thugs? We’re on the case)
A snatch of TV footage of Sarkozy’s remarks are on YouTube.
In the wiki there is mention of:
….a common perception, especially among foreigners and descendants of the recent waves of immigration, that French society has long made a practice of hiding, or at least whitewashing, its numerous signs and symptoms of racism xenophobia and classism, by all accounts at least equal in intensity to those in other European countries [..].
The suggestion being that he has absorbed this way of thinking (and hiding it) from French society as a whole. He is provoked into exposing his real feelings. Society has had a slanted view of things presented to it by a biased and manipulative media (government should be implicated as well in its earlier control of media): represented in the film both by Georges’ editing of his TV programme but also by mention of the 1961 Paris Massacre, which though known about at the time he utters the remarks, was not at the time it happened, because the media did not report it.
Haneke presents the killing of supporters of the FLN in ’61 as a brief description of what happened coming from the mouth of Georges himself, who is shown not showing any angst about it as he chats with the guests at his diner party. He is just relating a historical event.
The question is whether this sort of unthinking racism is particularly virulent in France in comparison with say Germany, Britain or the U.S. The film does not show any white working-class racial animosity. It shows the swimming instructors as being non-white, and the presumably all middle-class white children being allowed to be trained by them. It shows Georges waving amicably to an instructor. It shows mixed races coming out of the state school at the end of the film.
The danger, then, is the idea that the source of the racism is in the fear of the middle-classes. Presumably it then filters down to the working classes in the form of fear of loss of jobs and housing. Though the film shows an example of the subsidised state housing, HLM (habitation à loyer modéré), in the block in which Majid lives, it does not show whether these are all immigrant/non-white ghettos.
Haneke expects the intelligent viewer to tease out the racism per se from the concerns of the middle-classes for their own self- perpetuation/preservation. A key element of the film is the way that Georges goes about trying to shore up his status and power in the face of a perceived threat. He doesn’t suspect his cohorts but rather the lower orders. I thought, on watching the film again, that we were witnessing some sort of anomaly. Even if Georges had imbibed the hatred of (and/or indifference to) immigrants from his parents and society itself, he would surely be expected, as a highly intelligent man, to suspect he was being got at by someone in his family, or at work, or a member of the public who didn’t like his TV programme or in the media itself, before thinking it was an Algerian from his past. This particular Algerian, Majid, was born in France. He’s not just arrived in France. he may have worked and done his bit, but is now in hard times and showing the strain.
I am finding Ogrodnik’s analysis very useful as I explore Haneke’s Caché.
At several points he uses the word Anglo. I assumed this was interchangeable with Western at first:
Is he suggesting the French media are Anglo-orientated? That their modus/ethos is borrowed from the English-speaking media? The French themselves would not think so! Or does this mean a kind of default? That medias of this type (here French TV, as an example) by default use the manipulative and controlling ethos developed by and common in the English speaking media? (A debate about the way the BBC operates in comparison would be instructive…)
The French experience of course is with state controlled TV and radio as well as commercial. My thinking is along the lines of Haneke using the French media as a particularly bad example of bias/control, in that the 1961 Paris massacre of FLN supporters (and their mass detention using the same detention centres as the Vichy govt….Papon is mentioned in Cache: he was part of Vichy and the Algerian repressive apparatus, but also ended up a minster of Finance in a Barre and Giscard govt.), according to what I have been able to learn from the web, was just not reported in the press/media, so the public really didn’t know about it until it came out in the Papon trial in the late 90s. But this is state/media collusion. Can one say that this happens regularly in the US for example? Well, no, Nixon got found out. The Vietnam war was fully reported in all is gory detail, etc. and helped to end it. The same mistake was not made with the First and Second Gulf Wars.
I find it amusing that Mitterrand’s (once hidden…then revealed when it no longer mattered) daughter is an actor taking the part of a panelist on George’s TV book prog. And that Mitterrand himself had ‘hidden’ elements, which people are still not sure about. Very murky and uncertain. Was he a socialist doing undercover work in Vichy, or was he playing a double game?
Mitterrand when president is now know to have ordered the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour. But his direct involvement didn’t come out till much later. Perhaps the film should have been called Caché!
A subject that greatly interests me – though nothing directly to do with Haneke’s film – is Mitterrand the Jansenist. Though it is a long way from the immediate meanings and purposes of Haneke’s Caché, there is something in this Loyalist/Catholic thing, which Mitterrand seemed linked in some way to, that explains Petain and Vichy and might in turn suggest other underlying reasons for the racism in France.
For Caché to do the work it is meant to in creating a world of images and ideas stimulated by Haneke’s script, the audience has to be a pretty knowledgeable one. So George spelling out, admitting to his friends and wife at a diner party (after showing them one of the videos he hasn’t seen because it has just ‘arrived’) what happened in Nov. 1961 in Paris (Haneke has to make it a mini essay – albeit with no analysis from George or the guests – or no one would know what he meant…) would not strike up many emotional resonances in an American movie audience as it would in a French one. It doesn’t move Georges as he retells the story. And none of the diner guests, all media types, take it up, for example as being a stain on the honour or France. They prefer to listen to a shaggy dog story told by one of the guests. And (in my simplified words), what Haneke cleverly does is make his audience (here particularly the French one…) feel the desire to hide things as they watch the film, while at the same witnessing the extent to which a character lies and hides in order to uphold (as he sees it) his privileged middle-class identity!
Secrets, Lies & Videotape By Catherine Wheatley (BFI) In one scroll, but dealt with under headings. Roughly 3-4 pages equivalent.
originally in ArtForum, Jan, 2006.
Michael Haneke’s Caché By Florence Jacobowitz
Originally in CineAction, Winter, 2006.
p. 2 of 4:
‘Caché exposes the extent to which the bourgeois class safeguard the mythologies that empower and conceal its dark side.’
Then follows how Georges puts these into effect in his own life. An important sentence:
‘They have lost their ability to respond to life without the encumbrances of first having to protect their reputation and social position.’
There are many things in the film, many strands, personal, sociological and political, but this seems to be key to understanding it. We can examine various elements such as the meaning of the mention of the massacre of 1961, the heavy editing of his TV book programme, which parts of the film are remembered, imagined or dreamed, which are literal, which metaphorical or allegorical, but in the end these two phrases are the heart of the film.
An entry in Nationmaster has a suggestion at the end about the meaning of the final scene:
The question of who sent the tapes is open to interpretation. Majid and his son both deny involvement. There is a cryptic last scene (as the credits roll) of Pierrot and Majid’s son interacting in front of Pierrot’s school. Haneke has said in interviews that at first he included the sound of their dialogue, then he removed it. Another interpretation is that the tapes were shot by Haneke himself to confront Georges with his past. The foreshadowing of Majid’s suicide in the drawings delivered to Georges supports this interpretation.
Left Behinds blog has a post, New movies: Caché? What does it mean?, and a follow up post Update: Caché’s meaning, pretty much enters the territory I am, slowly. He includes a frame grab of Majid’s son and Pierrot that is almost the same as the one I snipped after watching it in the other day. I was looking for any contact and affability between the two, and here he gets that with son touching Pierrot with left hand, facing the camera.
The comment stream in the second post is long, with many suggestions.
A long analysis in Not Coming to a Theatre near You, starts with the TV studio shot, which it claims segues from the traditional, standard pull back shot at the end of studio programmes, but turns into a tracking shot that is Haneke’s camera rather than the studio camera, which ‘watches’ as Georges leaves the set to take call behind the scenery of the set. SEE still at head of post.
In the Artifical Eye DVD there is both an interview with Haneke and a short film on the making of the film, in which he talks as well. At one point he mentions having tried in the past to film dreams without success.
Nowhere to hide – Hari Kunzru assesses the films of Michael Haneke
(Guardian, 31 October 2009)
A Cache of Guilt : Michael Haneke turns his camera on the audience in his latest film, Caché. Noy Thrupkaew
Hidden Agenda Jason McBride
Girish blog post, Caché.
The French Lesson by Stephen Metcalf in Slate.
I have found myself unable to shake Caché. I am still poring over its studied ambiguities, arguing with its facile-fashionable politics, poking its dead zones, to see if it might yield even a modest smile, a drop of social hope. Life is short, and one function of a critic is to grant permission to ignore pretentious bullies like Haneke. In this instance, though, permission denied. Go see Caché.
Film blog post, Films I love #35: Cache (Michael Haneke), has a brief comment but here mostly for the set of clear 16 stills included.
Paul Arthur in a 2-page article, End Game, in the website of The Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Downcast Eyes: Michael Haneke and the Cinema of Intrusion by Asbjorn Gronstad, Nordicom Review 29, pp. 133-144 [pdf]
Ambivalence and Displacement in Michael Haneke’s Caché (Mary Caputi, Cal. State University) [12 pages]
Auteur de force: Michael Haneke’s “cinema of glaciation”. Roy Grundmann reviews DVDs od earlier films (originally in Cineaste).
1 hr. 25 min. YouTube video academic discussion of Caché, from the Philoctetes Center, with Roy Grundsman, Edward Nersessian, Brigitte Peucker, Brian Price and Garrett Stewart.
Profiles/Interviews with Haneke
Family Is Hell and So Is the World : Talking to Michael Haneke at Cannes 2005 (Bright Lights Film Journal)
The Unhappy World of Michael Haneke by Alan Riding [NYT]
Michael Haneke profile/filmography [at alt-flix]
Senses of cinema – Michael Haneke – by Mattiad Frey – before Caché.
What do Algerians think of Caché?
I can’t find anything on the web in English. If you have read something in Arabic or French in an Algerian newspaper published in France or Algeria on the web, please let me know.
The nearest I could get was Why, French Algerians’ football celebrations turned into a battle, Andrew Hussey Observer, 22 November 2009, in which the film gets a mention because it came out in 2005 at roughly the same time as the 2005 riots.
If you are really into the background to the French and the Algerians, then Alistair Horne is your man. Details of his book below.
Meanwhile, here are some more political interpretations of Caché:
I came across this article in World Socialist Web Site (isn’t website meant to one word?): The Artist has not done the most difficult work, by David Walsh argues for a kind of false objectivity in Caché while also:
Haneke (born in 1942) often returns to the coldness of society. Speaking of Austria, he refers to “my country’s emotional glaciation.” An awful indifference and distance generally separate his characters. Intelligent but deliberately chilly, Haneke’s films have tended to register certain moods of the European middle class in recent decades—increasing paranoia and tension, a sense of being overwhelmed by events, perhaps xenophobia—without, however, shedding a great deal of light on them.
In the name of rejecting the facile approach of certain socially-conscious filmmakers of the past, directors such as Haneke (and he is one among many, particularly in Austria, Germany and France) evade the responsibility of adopting any strong or recognizable attitude toward contemporary society. In reality, this false objectivity, presented as ‘letting the audience think for itself,’ is a concession to a confused and stagnant political climate.
Walsh does a good job in showing the limits of Haneke’s ideas, calling him light-headed in connecting Georges the six year old’s treatment of the child Majid with ‘the legacy of French colonialism!’ I recommend you read this as an antidote if you have become fixated on the film.
So far no North African reviews to get another perspective. I’ll keep looking. If someone could point me to an Algerian film review, I would be eternally grateful.
This abstract from a The Empire Looks Back by Max Silverman in Screen, 2007, 48(2), 245-249, is the first piece I have read in my Cache odyssey, to bring in Fanon. Wonder if Haneke’s bookshelves holds The Wretched of the Earth. Would that explain the bloody drawings and the bloody throat slitting in Caché ?
To read this snip, open in another tab:
Eye Wide Shut: of politics in French cinema, and more specifically in Michael Haneke’s Hidden by a certain Nico, starts rather promisingly with “Hidden is both interesting and a rather bad movie”, later asserting: ” Hidden represents what it denounces and reaches a refined form of harmless critique, the kind that lets good middle class citizens laugh at their own situation and happily bask in it in the same movement. ”
Movies: revenge is a dish best served competently, a post on Caché from blog, And Now the Screaming Starts, bridges the gap between the personal and the political by positing Hanek 1 and Haneke 2.:
First there’s the genre-subverting, meticulous, unsentimental, and rigorous artist. This Haneke does all the work. Then, throughout his flicks and somewhat at random, a second Haneke – a ham-fisted, ingenuous, and simple-minded – drops in awkward political asides that are so egregiously thoughtless that many otherwise sympathetic and astute viewers assume that they’re being insulted.
A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 by Alistair Horne. New York Review of Books paperback edition 2006, with new preface together with original preface of 1977 edition.
Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962)
1 page summary: mentions Sarkozy’s role as Minister of Interior in 2005 riots.
Essays in the SSRC website:
This is just one. The others are in the side panel on the left of the page in this essay:
Postcolonial Urban Apartheid Esaay by Paul A. Silverstein; Chantal Tetreault
….the French state’s self-congratulatory colonial “civilizing mission” turned post-colonial “integrating mission” which for the last fifty years has sought to transform the children of immigrants and other members of the suburban underclass into productive Frenchmen, all the while projecting them as suspect and potentially violent citizens.
Wiki: Paris Massacre of 1961
Check out the heading “the Massacre in popular culture – which mentions the first verse of Sticky Little Fingers’, “When The Stars Fall from The Sky”:
Mid-October, sixty one
The French Police were having fun
Cutting down Algerians
Breaking heads all over town
Yet no-one saw and no-one knew
No-one dared to speak the truth
200 dead became just two
Sweep them in the river
The witnesses were run to the ground
Put the bastards underground
Buried every black in town
Who dared to show their face
Mazarine Pingeot (the hidden daughter of Francois Mitterrand) – guest in George’s TV book programme. Mitterrand himself – where will this end? – was himself a bit of a hider of things such as his role in Vichy. Papon, of ’61 Massacre fame, was a Vichy functionary. But before that Papon was a Police chief in Algeria at the height of the Algerian War, who rose to become a Minister. If we can say anything, we can say that Hanke has read some stuff! He admitted to having seen the TV documentary on the ’61 massacre before making Caché.
SEE Maurice Papon, Vichy and Algeria, dissertation by Stepahie Hare-Cumming, L. Sch. of Economics.
Papon ended up as Budget Minister under Barre and Giscard d’Estaing and was buried with the Legion of Honour awarded by De Gaulle in July 1961, a few months before the Paris massacre.
To me the most fascinating ‘caché’ was Mitterand’s: how he started off under Petain (Vichysto-résistant?) and ended up as socialist president: was he a Vichyist who changed sides, or always a Free-French undercover agent. He was right wing before the war. As a functionary in the Vichy Government, he eventually turned against Vichy because of Prime Minister Lavel’s (started off a socialist and became right wing) decision to send French workers to Germany.
It is now known Mitterand, as president, ordered the sinking of Rainbow Warrior.
The great caché for France is its failure to come to terms with Vichy. From the list of additional meanings of caché: was it caché/enterré, or perhaps cache/difficile a trouver?
World Reactions to the 1961 Paris Pogrom by Daniel A Gordon, University of Susses Journal of Contemporary History, 1, (2000)
HLM ( habitation à loyer modéré) – wiki on subsidised housing in France.
BoBo [ Bourgeois Bohême ] – definition in Urban Dictionary. Georges Laurent uses the expression.
Policing Paris:Private Publics and Architectural Media in Michael Haneke’s Caché [Michael Gallagher, J. for Cultural research, Volume 12, Issue 1 January 2008, pp. 19-38)
There is a pay-for article. This is just a 7-line abstract, but the gist is there.
Secrets and revelations: Off-screen space in Michael Haneke’s cache [Libby Saxton, Studies in French Cinema, Vol 7 Number 1, 2007]. Summary and abstracts. Heavy academic tripe, but enough to tease out a few ideas.
“Cache is preoccupied, literally and metaphorically, with troubled, distorted or blinkered vision – with the mechanisms of secrecy, amnesia and denial that prevent us from taking responsibility for the past and facing the present clear-sightedly. The article argues that Haneke’s images produce meaning as much through what they conceal as through what they reveal, thereby exposing some of the blind spots that structure history, memory and spectatorship. “
” Defined by Jacques Aumont as `the collection of elements that, while not being included in the image itself, are nonetheless connected to that visible space in an imaginary fashion for the spectator’, off-screen space, or the hors-champ, is a permanent presence in cinema. It also remains one of the most enigmatic and persistently elusive of filmic sites. Michael Haneke’s critically acclaimed film Cache (2005) enlists both its protagonists and its viewers in a quest to make sense of off-screen space. Haneke’s camerawork, montage and mise-en-scene consistently accord priority to sites, events and entities which elude our gaze, yet which we nonetheless experience as irreducibly present, and which invest their visible counterparts with meaning. The film investigates the invisible dimensions not only of cinema, but also of digital video, surveillance footage and the mass media. Secrecy, concealment and blocked or obstructed vision emerge here as central formal and thematic preoccupations. Moreover, as Haneke explores the processes of repression, denial and amnesia involved”
” …..the growing suspicion that, in Cache, it is off-screen space which establishes on-screen space, rather than vice versa. For the contents of the frame is always already subject to the look of another – a look which cannot immediately be attributed to either director or spectator. This enigmatic look is at once the origin and the blind spot of the narrative. The plot turns on a series of attempts to uncover the identity and motives of a hidden presence who observes, films and even, in a certain sense, directs the action from beyond the frame. Cache opens with a prolonged, unbroken, static shot of the facade of a house filmed from a vantage point somewhere in the pointedly named rue des Iris in the thirteenth arrondissement of Paris. The scene appears, at first, deceptively normal and tranquil; early morning birdsong and the hum of distant traffic are interrupted only by the passage of the odd pedestrian, cyclist or car. But as the minutes slip by, the image, still unchanged, gradually begins to appear more suspect. Ostensibly devoid of narratively significant action, the scene’s inertia and banality start to unsettle the audience. After a while, the image ceases to hold our attention, which wanders instead – confirming Burch’s observations about the centrifugal force of the `champ vide’ – towards off-screen space, as we wonder who else, besides us, might be looking, and why. This, we begin to realize, is not a conventional establishing shot; the longer “
” The stasis of the camera and image and the deferral of a counter-shot or alternative perspective prevent us from making sense of the space outside the frame. Eventually, nearly two-and-a-half minutes into the film, disembodied voices intrude on the soundtrack discussing an as yet unidentified object that was left in a porch in a plastic bag. Haneke then cuts briefly to a shot of a man and a woman leaving the house, and we watch the man peer in puzzlement up the Rue des Iris in the now failing light. As we return to the initial shot, horizontal tracking marks appear on the surface of the image, as if someone has pressed the fast-forward button on a remote control. These visual and aural clues arouse suspicions that are subsequently confirmed by a medium shot of the couple back inside the house in front of a television screen, remote control in hand. The protracted opening sequence is thus retrospectively identified as an excerpt from a videotape sent anonymously to a family whose home appears to be under surveillance. What we at first read as a long shot turns out instead to have been a close-up of the screen on which Georges and Anne Laurent are viewing the tape. Finally regaining our bearings, we realize that we are inside the house we are viewing from the outside. We thus share, at least temporarily, the confusion and disorientation of a couple we encounter in the uncanny situation of watching themselves being watched. What is more, from the very outset of the film, we find ourselves already implicated, as spectators, in an economy of voyeurism and surveillance. “