Media What’s past is not past

A French celebrity is haunted by his youthful misdeeds

Caché begins with what the French call trompe l’oeil: The eye is tricked into accepting as real the opening image, a stationary long shot of a residential facade. We soon learn that the opening scene is part of a videotape left in a bag outside that house. The tape is more than two hours long, and Georges and Anne Laurent, who live in the building, are unnerved. Is this a prank? A threat? Why is their house being watched? Who made the tape? Why was it left for them to view?

Diouc Koma, Daniel Auteuil, and Juliette Binoche star in Caché, a French film about past misdeeds and the power of surveillance.

The Laurents soon establish that the tape is not a practical joke played by either Pierrot, their 12-year-old son, or any of his friends. Like France’s Bernard Pivot or, in this country, Charlie Rose, Georges (Auteuil) is a cultural celebrity, the host of a television show specializing in interviews with authors. And when Anne (Binoche), a book editor, suggests that it might have been one of Georges’ fans, we begin to wonder whether some psychotic viewer developed an ominous obsession with a TV personality. When another tape arrives, Georges goes to the police, but they cannot help, since videotaping a Paris neighborhood might be odd and unsettling, but it is no crime.

When another tape shows up, Georges’ suspicions become more focused. An unhinged stranger could not have made this one, since it shows the outside of his childhood residence. Someone named Majid (Béichou), whom Georges has not seen in 40 years, is, he concludes, the only person familiar enough with his past who might also harbor malign intentions. Georges refuses to confide his thoughts to Anne, and she becomes upset over her husband’s lack of trust. Their son becomes estranged. But the head of the Laurent household proceeds on his own to track down and confront Majid, whom Georges’ parents adopted when the other boy’s own parents were killed by police.


Writ. & dir. Michael Haneke; feat. Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Bénichou, Annie Girardot (R)

Exposing hidden wounds, Caché (Hidden) dramatizes the return of the repressed — in one man’s personal history and in collective memory. Georges has attempted to forget the grave wrong he as a child committed against Majid, just as the French tried to erase from public consciousness what happened on October 17, 1961. On that day, dozens of Algerians demonstrating in Paris for the independence of their native land were massacred. Working now in France and French, Austrian director Michael Haneke strips bare the illusions of benevolence, brilliance, and security that Georges enjoys. Haunted by the question of who is watching him, a sanguine, self-important man comes undone. His career and marriage are shattered.

But Haneke’s brutal strategy of demolishing the illusions of bourgeois complacency is less compelling or original than how he handles the theme of scrutiny. From its opening scene until the final frame, the world the film evokes is a long, unblinking take, a perpetual spectacle in which everyone everywhere is always under surveillance. Georges and Anne Laurent are of course being watched, by us. However, even in a darkened theater, suggests Caché, do not expect to be hidden. If you cannot watch your back, someone else will.

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