On one hand, I should have been angry at Caché, and Michael Haneke, its acclaimed director. Haneke starts with a killer premise — a well-to-do family starts receiving anonymous packages containing videotapes of their house — and then refuses to deal with it on a narrative level, preferring to treat it as metaphor, an artistic conceit. My ordinary reaction would be to say that, well, that’s a cop-out. You can’t tease me with the prospect of a great story and then nonchalantly inform me that you were just trying to make a point. Not cool.
But — behold! — Caché does tell a great story, even if it’s not the story I was expecting to see. Behold, also, that by the time it was all over, I didn’t much care who sent those tapes, nor who made those menacing phone calls, nor who made those lurid drawings. I embraced it as metaphor for what was actually going on here: something larger, something perhaps less purely mysterious, but every bit as sinister.
Georges (Daniel Auteuil) is an intellectual. He hosts an oddly popular (or maybe everyone just tells him so) talk show on which he holds very high-brow chats with various authors. To remove any doubt about the fact that Georges is in fact an intellectual, Haneke literally ensconces him in books — stacks and stacks of books, surrounding his dinner table, lining the walls of his talk show set. He barely seems to notice that his wife (Juliette Binoche) is constantly irritated, and can think of nothing to do but trade barbs with her, occasionally taking a moment to condescend to his son (Lester Makedonsky).
The tapes send his wall of smugness and false security crashing. Something is wrong. He is being watched. His reaction goes from denial (it’s someone’s idea of a joke, of course, though he does ask the unexpectedly insightful question, “who’d find this funny?”) to bewilderment, to a weird sort of determination — as the tapes and drawings get progressively more sinister, as he realizes (or does he?) their connection to his past, as he concludes that the police won’t be of help, he retreats to the silly notion that he’s going to take care of this himself, once and for all.
I don’t want to divulge Caché‘s secret, or even hint too much at its nature. It may not be the sort of resolution you expect from a film with such a disturbing plot description (though of course, what we learn is disturbing in a very different way); if you’re familiar with Haneke’s work, however, you’ll quickly see that he hasn’t wandered too far afield. He always finds ways to make you squirm.
Caché is about responsibility, ultimately, and it is a better film than Hotel Rwanda (for example) about the ways in which the middle class blithely shuts itself off from the world of those who, perhaps, never get the opportunity to host a talk show. (It’s worth mentioning, perhaps, that Georges’ makeshift investigation ultimately leads him to a place called Lenin Avenue.) What we quickly realize is that Georges has led a life of callous, willful indifference to everything around him — his family included — and when we learn that he has ostensibly been plagued with guilt over something in his past, we have no doubt that he has found a way to rationalize it for himself.
On the other hand, some of the characters here have a neat way of standing up for themselves, and Haneke seems to be saying that if people like Georges are challenged, they will readily back down. Georges spends most of the latter half of the movie in righteous outrage mode, yelling at everyone in sight while not making very much sense, but whenever someone gets in his face, he just starts sputtering (we first see a hint of this early, when he flips out at a black fellow riding a bicycle). And when we last see him, utterly bewildered and overwhelmed, he tragically does the only thing he can think to do, the thing he has been doing for his entire life — he draws the curtains, gets under the covers, and goes to sleep.
I was expecting a spooky mystery about a family terrorized by a diabolical stalker. I got something even better.