2005Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Bioche, Maurice Benichou
here's something hidden in the long, static closing shot of Cache—a clue, an answer, a red herring, an epiphany. It's embedded deep, somewhere back in the shadows—or, perhaps, it's right up front, hiding in plain sight. It vastly alters everything that preceded it, demanding a total reevaluation of the film—or it just further complicates this already profoundly inscrutable mystery. It is a conclusion both languidly drawn out and violently abrupt, stunning in its simplicity, infuriating in its opacity.
But here's the thing: I never saw it, whatever it is that's lurking in the back (or fore) ground. I knew enough to concentrate. I even knew what I should be looking for, and yet I still couldn't see it, though now, with the benefit of spoilers, I know what it is (and I wonder if saying something's there at all, even without giving it away, is a spoiler itself). Apparently, my experience with the ending of Michael Haneke's metaphysical mystery/thriller mind-fuck is fairly common: Half the audience sees something, while the other half either sits there perplexed and hopelessly scanning the screen as the credits roll, or storms out of the film in disgust.
It reminds me of one of those paintings of seemingly meaningless squiggly lines—some people can stand back and see the sailboat emerge out of the tangle, while others see only the lines. I tried hard to be the former, but inevitably became the latter. And yet, here's the kicker, the really devilish thing about Cache: It doesn't matter whether you can see “it” or not, because both paths lead to frustration. The film yields nothing for those trying to look for an intelligible answer to its myriad mysteries; it simply eludes your grasp each time you reach for it—an eternal mirage, a haunting.
But then what do we have here with Cache? What do we think we are seeing, and what are we really seeing? It opens much as it closes, a long static shot, here of the street just in front of an apartment building (the closing shot is of a school's front steps). People walk by, cars pass, bicycles dart through, and we see a man leaving the apartment. Then a voice of self-recognition, pointing out the man, a voice too close to be within the shot itself. And we realize that what we are seeing is in fact itself being watched on a television screen, the frame of which had apparently been flush with that of the film. A husband and wife are puzzling over one in a string of similar videos, always from the same vantage across from their apartment, sinister in their relentless concentration. Is it a practical joke? Is it some sort of surveillance? By whom, and why? Is it a crazed stalker (the husband is a famous television host)?
Eventually, the tapes begin to arrive on their doorstep with crudely violent childlike drawings, triggering dreams and memories in the husband, which begin to yield a possible identity of the family's tormentor. As subsequent tapes suddenly begin to move farther afield—unmoored from its heretofore fixed position, the anonymous camera travels to the man's boyhood home, and next drives down a Parisian street to a rundown apartment building, and walks right up to a specific door—the husband is led precipitously deeper into the troubling mystery and a dredged-up past of entwined guilt and sin. Descending into the film's dark center, he finally confronts his (supposed) tormentor, only to bear witness to a sudden moment of tragic and overwhelming violence. The ensuing shock waves radiate outward, in all directions, to infect the entire film, permanently disrupting both the fragile fraudulent calm of the family's home life and of Haneke’s film. Haneke is a master of this sort of stealthy trap, of hinging the thrust of a film on a single sudden moment of concentrated savagery. This might be his most audacious attack on both his characters and audience since Funny Games, but his absolute refusal to offer any sort of accountability, explanation, or salvation is his real genius here.
And if it all seems so ruthlessly calculated, well, Haneke is nothing if not a meticulous formalist: Cache is about as deliberately composed a film as you are a likely to see; extremely clinical, forbiddingly cold, entirely drained of color. It's so exquisitely stark, that you know Haneke wants you to see, to really see, what it is he’s trying to get at. Or does he? There's a profound dissonance at work here, roiling underneath the film's staid sheen, a sort of ontological dread that has more to do with the film's composition than its narrative. Cache is fragmented into so many disparate and often times indistinguishable feeds that we can never be sure of what it is exactly we are watching. A particular shot could be your standard third-person presentation of the film's world, or it could be a tape playing on a television, indistinguishable from the film's frame, or it could be the view through the lens of the video camera. The only certainty is that we are never certain of what we are seeing.
The result is a hopelessly discordant fugue of paranoia, distrust, and unknowing, a disconnect between perception and apperception. This may also be the real reason why Cache seems to infuriate audiences so—this almost contemptuous distrust on Haneke's part of the very lifeblood of cinema itself: sight. Upon pondering that closing shot, I wonder if maybe Haneke really doesn't want us to see what's there. Maybe we are passing some sort of obscure test, for which only he knows the purpose, if we refuse to confer meaning into something which, essentially, has none. Cache, so intelligent and beautiful a film, is ultimately a paean to man's tragic blindness.