It is not often that horror films win awards. With that in mind, it practically goes without saying that Michael Haneke’s “Cache” is not your ordinary horror film.
This French film, about a man who receives packages containing videos of himself and his family (in a decidedly less stylized manner than David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”), won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival and garnered both nominations and awards at several other festivals in 2005.
The tapes lead Georges (played by French actor Daniel Auteuil), the host of a television literary review, on a personal journey through his past, forcing him to remember people and actions he had forgotten for nearly 30 years. As is often the case in movies, the local police are minimally helpful and the Laurent family must face the intrusions into their private lives without help. As he receives more tapes, Georges begins to investigate the matter on his own and reconnects with an Algerian man who Georges’ parents nearly adopted. While the invasion of privacy is hardly ideal, problems really arise when Georges forgets both the fundamental rules of horror movies (ie: don’t ever go off alone) and of maintaining a healthy marriage.
Beneath the plot’s surface, there is an undercurrent of political tension. Majid, the Algerian, was the son of two farm laborers who worked for Georges’ parents. The two men met as children, during the Algerian war of independence, and had a brief but undeniably tumultuous friendship. Majid’s parents died in a real life massacre which took place in Paris in October of 1961. The Algerian National Liberation Front organized a protest in the city, and while official reports claim that three people died when police and demonstrators clashed, estimates suggest that it was probably closer to two or three hundred people. According to “Cache,” Majid’s parents were two of them.
Although the complex historical commentary may be lost on less globally aware American audiences, the event is fairly well explained and the topic is handled with exceptional delicacy.
On the whole, the film is well shot, seamlessly blending surveillance footage, flashbacks and real time to create the sense that the viewer is also, in some ways, an intrusive voyeur secretly viewing the personal tragedy of an otherwise normal family. The “brief, strong violence” (per the MPAA) that earns “Cache” its R-rating is so forcefully highlighted in contrast with the rest of the film that it is literally breathtaking. Auteuil and Juliette Binoche, who may be familiar from “The English Patient” and “Chocolat,” are clearly phenomenal actors, successfully impersonating the family next door in all its worn out and Volvo-driving glory.
The movie is smart and subtle in ways that are rare to its genre, if not to this era entirely. That said, there is a good chance that most viewers will miss one (or possibly two) crucial details that may (or may not) explain the events of the film. It is very possible, if not likely, that you will leave the theater feeling somewhat shaken but mostly confused, even if you do catch the important but unobtrusive interaction that occurs in the last scene. Fortunately, spoilers are easily accessible via a Google search.
More than anything, what is clear about “Cache” is that it was not made for an American audience. While the word “thriller” conjures up images of slasher movies — or, at best, M. Night Shyamalan’s gimmick-ridden “Sixth Sense” — “Cache” touches on political, personal and cultural questions that even more artistic American films tend to shy away from.
Perhaps in hopes of illustrating the depth of the issues it examines, “Cache” denies viewers the easy explanation and the reinforcing catharsis they have likely come to expect. Unfortunately, if you don’t know about the historical conflict between France and Algeria, miss the fleeting clue in the closing shot or simply leave to go to the bathroom at any point in the second half, the result is more confusion than profound reflection.