Cache, or The Eye of God is Hidden


In Cache, prominent book critic and pater familias, Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteil), comes home to find his wife in possession of a surveillance tape made of his street-front and home. Host of a literary discussion show, Georges is used to being on camera, however, he finds himself unsure of how to cope with the creepy video tapes that continue to appear. Minimalist inasmuch as they are videos of the front of his house that last for hours, they are sometimes delivered alongside unpleasant drawings of what appears to be a bloodied child; it becomes clear after a while that George’s stalker knows him. Very possibly, the stalker knows him better than his wife does.

As I first watched it, I strongly suspected their son of creating the tapes. 14 year olds are already proficient in video, and the badly made drawings could indicate someone with more skill at photoshop than in drawing by hand. Moreover, the video tapes and drawings rapidly expose the fissures and underlying hostility between Georges and wife, Anne Laurent (Juliette Binoche) — the kind of fissures a child would know better than anyone else. But the intimate problems of couples do tend to be universal, and the persecution complex infects a spouse more quickly than the person being stalked (they are threatened by what they cannot understand — a secretiveness that seems to be a judgment upon them). The film knows that that’s usually the one who goes to the police and urges the partner to report the violation. This, of course, is something Georges can’t handle — exposure of his secrets — caught in a spiral of paranoid bad conscience.

Over the course of the movie, another possible culprit enters into suspicion, namely, Majid — the son of the servants who worked for Georges’ parents when he was a child, and hitherto forgotten by Georges. Majid is the locus of his guilt/resentment. The servant couple disappeared back in the sixties during an Algerian protest of their treatment in the Republic. This is a moment that seemed to have vanished from the history books until recently: French soldiers cast hundreds of massacred Algerians into the Seine in 1961. Discovering that their servants were gone, and the son orphaned, Majid was to become Georges’ new brother.

Director Haneke refuses to lapse into “sociology” and does not soapbox about the historical event. Rather, his approach is more elliptical… more concerned with how the introduction of a new brother threatened Georges, who began to experience Majid in a hostile light, spreading lies about him to sour the adoption. A relationship that was supposed to be for life is pre-emptively truncated, forever haunting Majid, but only now remembered by Georges. One of the most primal moments in the movie is when Georges recalls a protesting Majid being stuffed into a car and driven away from their home. He tells his wife he can’t remember the details, but his memories are presented in the same clarity as the surveillance video of their home.

Using the landmarks in one of the video tapes, Georges tracks Majid to his current home, where Majid appears not to understand Georges’ accusations and slits his own throat in front of Georges. A video tape of the suicide is then sent to Georges’ home shortly thereafter, appearing to absolve Majid of responsibility.

The beauty of the film lies in the trio of steady-cams that record these scenes. In an age of hand-held cameras and action movie jump-cuts, there’s a courage to the stillness of these images. The stalker’s video is indistinguishable from the “mundane” live-action filming, leaving the viewer in a state of constant tension. The one exception to this is the shot of Majid slitting his throat in Georges’ presence where the hidden video camera shoots from a higher angle, as if it were a security camera, revealing more of the spurt and Georges’ stumbling powerlessness. The images’ distance increased distance make the moment more clinical and somehow impart a greater emotional impact, especially since they can be seen over and over.

You’d think this is a film about stalking when, in fact, the focus is on guilt and rejection. A wonderful interview with director Haneke at signandsight.com, entitled “Cowardly and Comfortable” highlights this. The interviewer states, “Georges will never reflect on his guilt. It also remains open if he’s wrong …” to which Haneke responds:

Georges should really question his whole way of life. But people never want to face up to that sort of thing. Not because it’d be so difficult in itself, but because the consequences are so severe. Although we know about other people’s wretchedness, it’s only in the rarest cases that we draw any consequences from it. This has what dramatic art has done since its origins. Just think of Oedipus. That’s not a bunch of laughs either.

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The threat from outside brings one’s own guilt to the surface. Georges cannot cope with this.

I believe that’s how we function. There’s such a thing as a sort of emotional memory for evil deeds. When a Proustian Madeleine appears by coincidence, then it all re-emerges. And anyway, I can’t pretend I don’t come from this Judeo-Christian tradition. The issue of guilt is always in the air at such latitudes. Which is why I always come back to it. One of the thoughts which inspired the film was to confront someone with something that he’d done as a child. In cases like this we find it particularly comfortable to talk ourselves out of the problem.

I like this idea of talking oneself out of a problem. As the film winds down, Georges hides in his bed. He takes off all his clothes, shuts the curtains and tries to shut out the world. He has stolen from himself the only opportunity for closure and now must live with this aporia in his past, forever unresolvable. One can only imagine the hell he will have keeping it at arm’s length for the remainder of his life. As the credits run, we see a shot of Majid’s son and Georges’ socializing at school as a video camera records them from afar, mirroring the opening scene and hinting at a renewal of intimate violence.

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