I finally got around to watching the DVD of a French art house flick that Arlington filmmaker Frank Mosley had enthusiastically recommended. Lovers of morbid, paranoid, and spare thrillers should definitely check out ”Cache” (2005). Austrian director Michael Haneke (the English and Austrian versions of “Funny Games,” “The Piano Teacher”) won the top Palm d’Or prize at last month’s Cannes for ”The White Ribbon”, so his creepy, provocative canon is back in a much-deserved spotlight.
“Cache” (the French word for “Hidden”) has launched a thousand wine-soaked post-screening conversations. It stars Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil as an upper middle-class, smugly liberal Paris couple – she’s in publishing, he hosts a public TV talk show for bickering intellectuals – who suddenly start receiving bizarre anonymous children’s drawings, cryptic phone calls, and – worst of all –videotapes of surveillance footage taken outside their townhouse and at various mundane sites of their daily lives. They are being watched by someone hostile, but in the end, it’s their own panicky reactions that create all the trouble.
The backstory of “Cache” has to do, in part, with the uneasy relationship between French Arab citizens and their non-Arab neighbors, and with France’s “Vietnam experience” in Algeria. The movie itself gets way more personal and intense than that – this is no bland historical screed. Director Haneke has been compared to Hitchcock, but that’s the default comparison for any maker of suspense films. Haneke works more in the non-flashy, subconsciously twisted vein of Polanski – their movies share a free-floating fear that anyone you know could be plotting against you. “Cache” posits the disturbing notion that a lie told by a six year old could ruin his adult life 40 years later, and that there is some unnamed moral arbiter recording the tiny details of people’s lives, sifting them for culpability. There are long takes broken up by sudden rewind-fast forward fissures on the screen, so – and here’s the freakiest part — you’re never sure who’s watching a particular scene along with you.
The movie concludes with the famous static shot outside a Paris school, a long scene which one film critic after another has insisted you must carefully explore – as in, forward and rewind through — to catch strange last-minute character connections. If you’re even a little intrigued, don’t miss this unsettling work of art.