Judging by the reviews I’ve read for Cache, I am supposed to be blown away by its myriad profundities, its mastery of film, its ability to create tension, and so on. I’m not.
I’m also supposed to have been shocked — shocked — by a scene of brutal daring unlike anything ever encountered in the history of cinema. I wasn’t.
Indeed, the only thing that shocked me about Cache was the occasional critical assertion that it is writer/director Michael Haneke’s most accessible work to date. Spare me his more impenetrable ones, please! It isn’t that I didn’t get the point of Cache. It’s that I don’t care that I got it.
Somewhere around the halfway point, I realized that all this elaborate and methodical (that’s critic-speak for “tedious”) buildup was for a mystery without a solution and a thriller devoid of thrills. This isn’t accidental, mind you. Haneke has something more important on his mind — exposing the shallow lives of the bourgeois French intellectual set, and laying bare the crushing weight of the collective guilt that has resulted from French colonialism.
However valid these themes may be, I have to confess that these are not issues that keep me awake at night. They do not squat on my brain like some fantasticated octopus of guilt. This may, of course, simply be an expression of my own shallowness in this matter. But I am just not sold on Haneke’s complacent, smug superiority in regard to it all.
Nevertheless, Haneke’s setup is admittedly clever. Georges (Daniel Auteuil, The Widow of St. Pierre) and Anne Laurent (Juliette Binoche, Bee Season) are an apparently content, upper middle-class couple with a spiffy little Parisian home and jobs in the realm of the arts — he has a literary talk show and she works for a publishing house. But their pleasant existence is shattered when someone starts leaving them videotapes of their house being watched. They’re under some kind of inexplicable surveillance, and though at a loss to understand why, they’re not unreasonably unnerved by it. When they start receiving childish drawings of animals — and later people — with their throats cut, their discomfort escalates.
The question, of course, is who is doing this and why? And, more, where is it leading? Are there answers? Well, yes, sort of. Actually, there are things that might be answers, but Haneke seems disinclined to go further than that. He’s more concerned with proving how pseudo Georges’ intellectualism is (the books that festoon his TV-show set are fake — get it?), and how his life has been stunted and overshadowed by a nasty act he committed when he was 6 years old. If all this strikes you as profound, then Cache may well appeal to you.
There’s nothing wrong with a film trying to transcend its genre. Many films have tried, and quite a few have succeeded. The history of film is full of movies with rich subtexts contained within genre works — Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat, James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein, the bulk of Hitchcock’s 1950s output, Bryan Singer’s X-Men films, etc. — but these were films that remembered to fulfill their genre requirements. Haneke will have none of this. In fact, his penchant for long, dull, static takes (meant to mirror the surveillance cameras) suggests a basic distaste for the language of film altogether.
It’s all about the message. And when all is said and done, I have some doubt as to the sincerity of that. At bottom, Cache is a film squarely aimed at the very audience it’s force-feeding with guilt, a work whose obscurities are designed to be endlessly debated on the wine-and-cheese circuit of intellectualism. Is this the work of a serious, committed artist? Or merely that of a clever parasite who has figured out a way to make uneasy intellectuals praise him for attacking them? You decide. Rated R for brief strong violence.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke