Cache [Hidden] (2005)
Written & Directed by Michael Haneke
Cache is a film nestled in modern French history, specifically the Algerian War. The French right-wing was becoming aggressive towards Algeria in the early 1960s. Algeria had been a colony since the mid-1800s, and its citizens had become tired of their abuses at the hands of the French. In October of 1961, the FLN, a nationalist political party in Algeria, called on their emigres in Paris to participate in a march. The police prefect Maurice Papon, who served in Vichy France, called on the police to take aggressive action against these protestors. The result was 200 Arab people being drowned or shot to death in the Seine. French authorities hid evidence and suppressed investigations in the wake of the massacre. At the time, only three deaths were admitted. By 1998, when reporters were given access to archives, the total death toll became clear.
Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil) is a successful host of a literary television show. His wife, Anne (Juliette Binoche), works in publishing. Their teenage son Pierrot seems like your average teenage boy. A disruption occurs when a videotape appears on the front doorstep one morning. Georges and Anne watch it and see a single static shot from an alleyway near their home. Nothing in the video is directly threatening, but its presence implies possible sinister surveillance. More videotapes arrive, and then crude childlike drawings of blood and violence are sent to Georges’ workplace and Pierrot’s school. Georges begins having recurring dreams about a boy from his past, Majid, an Algerian whose parents worked for Georges’ parents. They were killed in the massacre, and Georges’ mother attempted to adopt Majid. Things happened, which Georges made possible, that nullified any chance of adoption, and now he believes this is coming back to haunt him.
While Cache appears on the surface to be about the identity of who is sending these tapes, it’s really not. In interviews, Haneke has emphasized that any answer to “Who is sending the tapes?” can work if you want it to. “I’m not going to give anyone this answer. If you think it’s Majid, Pierrot, Georges, the malevolent director, God himself, the human conscience – all these answers are correct. But if you come out wanting to know who sent the tapes, you didn’t understand the film.”
Instead, Haneke says he’s using the structure of a thriller to ask a larger question, how do we reconcile guilt from both personal actions and historical atrocities? How much blame should be accepted for those actions from before our birth or that happened when we were children? He isn’t arrogant enough to think he has any of those answers; instead, we need to raise the question first. So often in American culture, I’ve engaged with and seen people in conversation who, when asked to confront a problem, immediately want to break down the entire discussion because there is no clear-cut answer. These are the debates where you most often hear people saying nonsense like “That’s just how things are” or “There’s nothing we can do about that now.” This is a typical symptom of neoliberalism, where history and its context are tossed aside for the foolhardy belief that civilization is an intricate mechanical device that we just have to keep running and everything will be fine.
Haneke is also clear that it is not a film exclusively about the murders of these Algerians. The massacre is a jumping-off point to address any similar event. He made it in France with French actors about a French historical atrocity, but you could put almost any dominant Western society in its place, and the story would still be just as relevant. Its intent is to look at the long-term harm caused by colonialism and its active refusal to acknowledge this. Georges’s history with Majid reflects the more significant cultural conflict. Georges wronged his childhood friend in a manner that has scarred the man into middle age. To help himself justify his actions, Georges has manufactured false memories that frame Majid as violent and dangerous. These fabrications give him an artificial moral ground to stand on and feel protected from responsibility.
The videotapes, therefore, become a manifestation of Georges’s paranoia. We can lie to ourselves, but eventually, some part of our minds must contemplate that some people know the truth, and they are watching us utterly aware of our lies. Haneke cleverly plays with the audience’s understanding of the iconic opening of the film. First, it’s the footage of the Laurent home, but then a couple minutes in, we begin to hear Georges and Anne before we see them. They are commenting on the video. Adding another layer is that the credits silently play over this image. So we have three perspectives (the camera recording, the couple watching, and the film that has been made). In doing this, Haneke points out how difficult it can be to get to the core truth of an event when you have layered perspectives that obfuscate reality.
Media has become a tool for blurring the truth. Georges’ show only features books that do not exist in our reality. His shelves at home overflow with DVDs, CDs, VHS tapes, and more digital media. All of these pieces of media serve to allegedly preserve memory; they document reality in one way or another. However, Georges lives a life where he doesn’t engage with the truth. Ironically, the mysterious tapes, packed to their maximum length (2 hours), are prodding him to confront the lies he’s been living on top of since he was a child.
While possibly not intended by Haneke, the film was released into a world where mass surveillance, justified by the events of 9/11, was a significant topic of conversation. The surveillance of society continues without many obstacles but doesn’t serve to expose the truth, instead of as part of a larger narrative of justifying authoritarian control. This does play into Haneke’s observations about who is watching. For generations, people lived under the duress of a deity observing them from on high, the engine of their guilt imposed by the Church. Now, we have all-powerful governments tracking people’s movements. There are signs that the adults in this story are so warped as people by their unwillingness to acknowledge their guilt that they behave violently when confronted with it.
In the film’s final shot, Haneke seems to imply a connection between Majid’s son and Pierrot. We only see the two boys encounter each other on the steps of the latter’s school. They have a conversation, but the audience is not privy to what is said. We’re left wondering if they were collaborators in these videos or if this was their first meeting. Maybe Majid’s son realized he could only find peace by going past Georges and straight to his son? Perhaps the sins of our parents & ancestors cannot be addressed by them but by their descendants? This image is also reminiscent of the opening shot of a camera recording the Laurent home, making its place in the chronology suspect. While it appears at the picture’s end, it may not be taking place then. We could be watching an interaction from before Georges received that first video. Haneke is too intelligent to think Cache will provide closure or answers. He wants us to continue wrestling with the guilt that lingers in the air and see what solutions we come up with.