Caché (Hidden) directed by Michael Haneke (France, 2005)

cacheOn 17th October 1961, the French National Police, following orders  from the head of the Parisian police force, Maurice Papon,  attacked a peaceful demonstration of around 30,000 pro-National Liberation Front (FLN) Algerians.

The events surrounding the massacre and its death toll of anywhere between 40 and 200 Algerians were long denied by the state and were not exposed by the media at the time. The true extent of the massacre only became public around 40 years later.

I didn’t know the details of this shameful cover-up but the ‘truth’ of this recent history helps to understand some of the complexities of Michael Haneke’s subtle and brilliantly acted psychological thriller, Caché (Hidden).

For example, it is no coincidence that the parents of Majid, one of the film’s key protagonists, were killed in the events of 1961. Majib was adopted by the bourgeois Laurent family but subsequently sent away to an orphanage.

The circumstances behind the Laurent family’s rejection of this child slowly come to light and apparently explain why, years later, their son George Laurent (Daniel Auteuil) , now a successful TV presenter, is receiving a series of mysterious video cassettes .

George lives in an elegant city home with his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) who works in publishing, and their 12-year-old son Pierrot.

childcacheThe videos show that the George and Anne are under surveillance by person or persons unknown. The films show hours of footage of their home shot and the cassettes are wrapped in paper depicting crude yet disturbing images either of a boy coughing blood or of a decapitated chicken.

Are these children’s drawings or are they by an adult adopting a childlike style?

The adult Majid (Maurice Bénichou), and his own son, are suspected of being behind the videos but this is never proved beyond doubt.  Furthermore, since no direct threats against the Laurents are being made, the police can do nothing.

Michael-Haneke

Michael Haneke

In many ways these mysteries and dilemmas are smoke screens for what the film is really about. I think Haneke wants to show  how we can never really know the absolute truth about political or social history.

How, he seems to be asking, can we ever be sure of anything?  The France government’s actions in 1961 during the Algerian War demonstrate how facts can be manipulated or hidden and the same can happen in domestic situations.

George’s guilty secret is that he effectively caused Majib to be rejected by his parents and thus we see how the dichotomy between the two men’s lives might have been so different.

Key details remain unclear, however, and the closing shot raises further ambiguities as it opens the possibility that the sons of  Majib and George may somehow be complicit in the events.

If Haneke knows the answers to the questions he is posing,  he is not telling. He has spoken of his dislike of movies where all loose ends are tidily explained and prefers to keep his audiences guessing. This works to great effect in Caché and, while it will surely infuriate many viewers,  explains why this is one of three Haneke movies to be voted by critics as one of the best 100 movies of the 21st century so far.

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