“Cache (Hidden)”, a new French film, does a very sly thing. This very good, very engrossing film received a limited theatrical release earlier this year and has just been released on DVD. I highly recommend it.
George (Daniel Auteil, “Apres Vous”) and Anne (Juliette Binoche, “The English Patient”, “Bee Season”), a French couple with a 12 year old son, Pierrot, are disturbed when they receive an anonymous videocassette showing the exterior of their home. Nothing else is on the tape, just two hours of the front of their house, showing an occasional car drive or pedestrian walk down the quiet residential street. Soon, another tape arrives wrapped in a child-like drawing showing a boy bleeding from his mouth. The tape shows the same thing, two hours of surveillance. As the tapes continue to arrive, the setting changes, but it is always something to do with them, someplace or event they are associated with, and the couple becomes more frazzled. They try to figure out who might be at the center of this conspiracy and try to get the police to help. When that proves ineffective, they begin to follow leads of their own. As the tapes and the drawings continue, George begins to have memories of a traumatic event in his childhood. But who is sending the tapes? And why?
Directed by Michael Hanneke, “Cache” is a surprisingly effective film. Surprising because it manages to draw us in to the story so completely.
The film opens with the shot of the couple’s home. For a few minutes, the camera just sits recording, watching, and showing us what the person is seeing as they make the videotape. Soon, we hear George and Anne talking off-screen, discussing the situation. Suddenly, the unmistakable signs of a videotape being rewound interrupt the image. We have been watching the tape the couple is watching! We have been sharing their point of view. Using this forced perspective, the director has done two things. He is telling us we can’t really trust everything we see and he is also forcing us to see the world through the eyes of George and Anne. As we watch the film through their eyes, we also understand they are unable to trust everything they see, adding to the confusion. It is a brilliant method of bringing us into their world.
Throughout the film, Hanneke takes his time; very few camera moves, very few edits and no background music make us an eavesdropper. Virtually every scene seems to last ages, five minutes or more, but that helps us become a part of their world. This may not seem like a long time, but in today’s cinema, it is an eternity. The director is making us both an eavesdropper and a participant. We are usually placed in the same position as the videographer, or if the couple is having a discussion, we frequently take the place of one of them, watching their partner throughout the interaction. We are always watching, making us complicit in the crime, if a crime in fact occurred.
I don’t want you to get the impression that “Cache” is only good because of this narrative technique. At the heart of the film are two great performances from Auteil and Binoche. Auteil plays George, a television personality currently hosting a popular show featuring a roundtable of authors discussing their new books. If you needed any confirmation this film isn’t set in the U.S., look no further. He and Anne have been together a long time and it shows. There are no romantic fireworks, but when this situation develops, they work together because they love each other; they are a team, a couple.
At one point, they consider maybe they are being stalked, because of his celebrity status. We watch as he hosts a little of his show, he meets with his agent to discuss the status of his new project and more. But the drawings bring back childhood memories and he changes focus.
Binoche is, as always, great. Her portrayal of Anne, a book publisher, is excellent. In one particularly good scene, she has a fight with her husband because he went to talk to someone else about a key point in the mystery, preferring not to bother her; he didn’t have an affair, he didn’t kill anyone, he didn’t rob someone at gunpoint, he merely confided in someone else. Because they have been together for years, she feels hurt that he couldn’t confide in her. It is an effective method of showing how long they have been together, the state of their relationship, their maturity.
As they work through the various scenarios, we see them interact with friends, their son, co-workers. All of this helps these characters seem real; like we are watching two people live their lives, like we are eavesdropping or complicit in the crime. If in fact one occurred.
“Cache” also contains a scene which shocked me. This isn’t easy to do, because I have seen hundreds of films and very little is new or unexpected. But this scene caught me off guard; it is completely unexpected and depicted in such a way I was surprised. The scene is all the more effective because it fits and also deepens the mystery. It isn’t a red herring included merely for the sake of including it.
The DVD contains a lengthy interview with the director and a long making-of documentary, both of which are over 30 minutes long. I watched a few minutes of each and then turned them off; I didn’t want to have any of the film’s secrets ruined. Even after watching the film, I didn’t know or understand everything that happened and I was afraid one of these supplements would ruin some of the mystery. I didn’t want to hear even their interpretation of what really happened.
I have my own interpretation. And I’ll keep it hidden.