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Caché is a deceiving web of suspense


The questions posed within the opening scenes of Caché, and those around which the nebulous film is seemingly spun, linger unanswered nearly two hours later in the final scene of the film—unanswered that is, unless the audience is particularly attentive to details so overt, they are nearly imperceptible to easily distracted viewers.

Known for his enigmatic films, Austrian director Michael Haneke creates a sterile and fragmented world in a well-to-do Parisian suburb, where Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil), the well-known host of a popular literary TV show, is anonymously sent video tapes of his home and personal life. Despite few clues as to the voyeur's identity, Georges faults a childhood acquaintance as the culprit. His wife Anne (Auteuil's co-star in The Widow of Saint-Peirre, Juliette Binoch—who also played the part of Anne Laurent in Haneke's Code Unknown), frightened by the tapes and anonymous calls but without her own explanation, is led to follow her husband's suppositions regarding the source of the "terrorizing." Nearly ignored by his parents and never privy to their videotape-stalker anxieties is 12-year-old Pierrot, whose off-screen activities pose some of the most important material in the film.

Identifying and connecting the subtle dots—which, given the film's title (translated as "hidden"), suggests not all is as hidden as Haneke leads us to believe—is not an easy task when the plot appears as simple as it does. Despite appearances, Caché dips its fingers into the pots of many complex social issues, the most evident of which is the growing frustration of the lower class French-born Arab population that remains disconnected and disenfranchised in their home country. Ingeniously, the simplicity of the dialogue and surface plot serves as only a shallow reflection of life atop a much deeper and mired tale further complicated by the perplexing emotions of guilt, shame and regret.

A tense whodunit, Caché's understated audio and visual elements serve as smoke and mirrors in the visually fractured film. Because much of the scenes are static—the only noticeable "sound track" is the recurring sound of chirping birds and the camera often fixates on one angle for long periods—viewers interpret the stasis as lack of importance. And Haneke takes every opportunity to capitalize on the manipulation of the "on-screen" theme. As fodder, he uses Georges' career as a TV star, the film within a film concept and Georges' on screen performances both when he knows and does not know he is being filmed. In fact, Haneke is so successful pulling the strings that often the audience does not know when the screen is showing the movie proper or full-screen clips of the video cassettes.

A singularly graphic and disturbing scene flushes out the film's most poignant moments and cleaves the plot into the two halves the audience expects to see: the first half which sets up the questions and a second half, which presumably provides answers. And though that turn certainly provides some insight, it neglects to uncloud the remaining mysteries. For that, Haneke has again, placed les choses caché before unseeing eyes in the film's final scene.