As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Caché

Posted by Hedwig on March 11, 2008

It’s been almost a week since I finally saw Caché, Michael Haneke’s lauded 2005 film about a couple that discovers they’re being watched. And the reason it’s taken me so long to write about it, I’m almost ashamed to admit, is that I was extremely underwhelmed.

Did I miss something? Was I too tired when I watched it, too relaxed, not concentrated enough? An 8.3 on metacritic, 88% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes…I kept examining myself, trying to figure out what it was in me that prevented me from liking this movie.

But what could it be? It wasn’t that I expected a resolution: I knew there would be none. It’s not that I didn’t get the concept: I do, and I even thought it was a neat idea that the opening shot makes you examine every frame of the rest of the movie carefully, trying to determine whether you’re watching a surveillance tape – a determination intentionally made tricky because the whole movie consists of static, score-less shots. And I like the concept that simply the knowledge that someone might be watching, even just the sensation of being watched, can be destructive.

So you know? I don’t think it’s me. I think it might just be the movie. The whole storyline in Georges past, for example, and how it ties into the present, felt forced. It’s probably supposed to incite colonial guilt, but it feels tacked on. Cheap. Like the moment that lends the movie its cover image, which is needlessly manipulative, shocking just for the sake of being shocking.

And you know? It would have helped if the characters were interesting, or even just developed a little more. Georges goes really crazy really fast, and does some unbelievably stupid things, and Juliette Binoche’s Anne is a cypher, and a bland one at that. It’s too bad, because some moments are very well done: when the couple’s son, Pierrot, disappears, the ensuing panic is fascinating to watch, and the suspicion that slowly rises between Anne and Georges is very well done. If the movie had continued in that vein, forgetting about the whole Majid storyline, I would have been fascinated.

As it was, I was just bored. Too bored to give in to Haneke, and start examining every shot for details, for meaning. Too bored to care for the characters, too bored to be more than mildly shocked at the aforementioned manipulative moment. Too bored, even, to be much unsettled by it after the first half hour.

Why, then, did 88% of critics go for it? Well, if you’re one of them, or just a lover of the film, please, please let me know what I was missing. I like intellectual, ambitious, ambiguous films. And I’d love to understand why I didn’t like this one.

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15 Responses to “Caché”

  1. I wish I could school you on the greatness of Caché, but I can’t because I almost hated it.

    I haven’t been exposed to much Haneke, but I suspect he has a contempt for his audience. He wants to push your buttons and fool you, but to no apparent purpose beyond his own gratification at being smarter than you are.

  2. Kaj said

    I’d really like to defend it, because I really thought it was great, but I don’t remember it well enough to make a convincing argument that would satisfy me. But I do remember finding the constant search for truth (is this ‘real film’ or a tape?), the examining of every little part of the image, created a lot of tension for me. And that really sucked me into the film and captivated me a lot of the time. But I don’t remember that much else, except enjoying this uneasy tension. Which is typical for Haneke, who’s made me squirm a lot during the other film I saw of him too. I also remember the throatslitting, especially because the entire audience collectively shrieked at that moment, and the ending, but that’s mostly because I didn’t see what happened in that last shot that everybody talked about afterwards. The other film, by the way, is La Pianiste, a film that makes no effort to make it easy on the viewer either.

    Craig (can I say Craig?), I don’t believe that Haneke has a contempt for his audience. He certainly pushes buttons, but I’ve never felt fooled by him or that he was trying to be smarter than me. Why do you think this. And incidentally, what is your opinion on Godard, whom I suspect does have some contempt for his audience (Week-End is basically a big middle finger to the audience)?

  3. Kaj said

    That Why do you think this should be followed by a question mark, of course…

  4. Daniel said

    Much as I agree with some of what you say, I have to admit a number of the scenes have stuck with me after seeing it in the theater three years ago. Both the initial and final scene were pretty mesmerizing, and I remember moments of suspense throughout. And the most memorable, of course, was the NEVER-SAW-IT-COMING scene, for which I’m still not sure what kind of effects were used. All of this is to say that yes, I was manipulated, and yes, I’m freaking out a little bit about having to see Funny Games this weekend.

  5. Remko said

    I am one of the lovers of Caché. Maybe you could read my review (in Dutch) to understand why. You don’t have to agree of course. Do you like Haneke in general? The recurring themes in his oeuvre are very misanthropic, but that’s exactly what I admire him for.

    http://www.filmtotaal.nl/module.php?section=newsDetails&newsID=6395

  6. Lanchka said

    Could anyone tell me whether you think that this film should/must be seen on the big screen for its effect to be fully appreciated? Perhaps the theater experience, with the audience and the all-enveloping darkness, makes it more compelling – or makes no difference at all? I am asking this in part because Hedwig wondered in her post whether she was too relaxed and not concentrated enough while watching it, and in my little world going to the movies is an exciting enough event that the anticipation of the film, the buzz of the audience, that moment when the lights finally dim, could provide more concentration and un-relaxation than usual.

  7. Hi Kaj,

    I was sucked in to the movie too for a long time. It was undeniably skillful at creating a puzzle, but then seemed to take pleasure in not really solving it.

    I’m afraid my memory of it is also fuzzy and I’m going on memories of my initial impression. Perhaps that’s not fair. I remember seeing it amid a lot of critical hype and feeling let down by it.

    That’s an interesting comment about Godard. An argument could be made that if he isn’t indifferent to his audience, he’s contemptuous of it, yet he doesn’t bother me that way. To me he seems like a bit of a troublemaker, confounding our expectations and pushing the boundaries. Perhaps Haneke is simply doing the same thing.

    I’m hopeful that I’ll like Funny Games.

    And yes, you can call me Craig. Just don’t call me stupid 🙂

  8. sarcastig said

    I think Lani has a good point: I might have been able to get more into this film if I’d seen it in the theater, and not at my parents’ place with my mom, who has a tendency to talk during movies (sorry, mom, but you kinda do). Thing is… I’m not sure I would have liked to see it in the cinema. I would have been more concentrated and attentive, definitely, but this is a highly unpleasant film without – at least for me – any rewarding aspects.

    I agree with most of Remko’s review… except with his assessment of the ‘political layer’, which in my opinion weakened the film, and made it so much less universal than it could have been. I also disagree that Auteuil has an interesting character to play: he did many things I simply did not understand, and were just flat-out stupid. I’m talking especially of what happens just after the big shock: he KNOWS he’s been filmed in that room, should know that he’s probably still being filmed, so yes, calling the police would seem a priority, not an afterthought. And there were also other aspects of his conduct that seemed to be there to serve the plot, and not the character.

    As to whether I like Haneke in general, I have to admit it’s my first of his. I’m not particularly eager to seek out more now, but I’ll probably try his upcoming Funny Games remake. It looks pretty unpleasant from the trailer, but who knows, this time I might see the purpose behind it.

  9. Remko said

    Aha, it’s your first Haneke. That could explain something. Or not. The future will tell, but please promise me to watch the original Funny Games before the remake.

  10. “And I’d love to understand why I didn’t like this one.”

    Well, I never even saw it – or heard of it to be completely honest, so I cannot be of any help here, but I am now intrigued enough to see it.

  11. sarcastig said

    @Remko: usually, I’d agree with your original-before-remake rule, but in this case I’m torn. I mean, it’s supposedly a shot by shot remake, by the same director… so in that case, does it really matter?

    And Nick, if you ever manage to get a hold of it, let me know what you think. It’ll be helpful in determining whether I was too old or too young for it 😉

  12. Kaj said

    Watch Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, and you will see that it really does matter. A lot.

  13. sarcastig said

    The analogy occoured to me, but it’s not the same. Not just that for Funny Games it’s the same director (case in point: the remake of Spoorloos/The Vanishing), but Gus van Sant added color, and made some things much more expicit (aka. Vaughn masturbating). Also, Haneke has frequently said that he meant Funny Games as a reaction to film violence especially in Hollywood films, and wanted an American audience to watch it.

    I can’t really think of another case like it. Hitchcock of course made The Man Who Knew Too Much twice, but I’ve heard (I haven’t seen either) that he had a very different take the second time around.

  14. I’m going to try and get my hands on the original Funny Games this weekend before I see the remake.

  15. Remko said

    Night Watch as a remake of Nattevagten is another example. Both directed by Danish Ole Bornedal. Turned out pretty ok actually.

    Maybe it’s not a sin to watch the remake first, but I think you will miss something of the experience. You’re judgement may be distorted watching them the other way. It’s a different perspective. And you can’t reclaim it once you’ve seen the remake first.

    What the heck, maybe I am just a conservative movie pedant.

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