In 2005 the banlieus
of Paris erupted into riots as the frustrations of the sidelined Arab and African communities boiled over. It came as a shock to the bourgeoisie Parisienne
, which had drawn a veil over the suppression of the Algerian Liberation movement, forty-five years earlier.Caché
opens with a shot of a comfortable suburban neighbourhood. The shot lingers and lingers, people pass, cars come and go, it's just an ordinary day. And then, just as we wonder what's going on, the shot is revealed as a video, shot by a CCTV-like hidden camera and left on the doorstep of the house at the centre of the camera's vision. The house is the home of Georges Laurent, a presenter of literary television programmes, his wife Anne and their talented but restoless 12-year-old son Pierrot.
More of these videos keep arriving, showing scenes from Georges's life and accompanied by childlike drawings of violence. Georges, who is accustomed to being under the scrutiny of the camera, is nonetheless terrorised by these banal images, and the strains begin to show. Can the videos be awakening memories of a dark secret in Georges's past? And what has this to do with Majid, the Algerian boy adopted by Georges's parents when he wasa small child.
This is a film where very little actually happens, yet it is full of significance. When something dramatic does happen, it sends a jolt through the audience (and this is a film which really needs to be seen in a cinema). Though on the surface the events depicted affect only a few people and yet, through the medium of the big-screen television, we are reminded of the wider context: the earlier brutality shown to the Algerian demonstrators, and the ongoing conflict in the Arab world.
Those who need the quickfire cutting of Fight Club
and the soupy scoring of Gladiator
will no doubt find this film baffling. Much of the film is made up of long, lingering shots like that opening one, of noting very much. You are expected to work quite hard, however, because there's more going on in thise shots than you might first realise and there's a wealth of detail to take in. Hint: This is especially
true in the very last shot. There's a lot going on but you need to be watching out for somebody you will recognise.
I found this showing at the Reading Film Theatre, tucked away in the middle of the University campus where townies such as I seldom venture. It was very well-attended but I was disappointed and a bit annoyed to hear that the RFT had cut its showings from three a week to two a week, and dropped most showings of non-English Language films. This one was an exception, and the policy of Anglo-hegemony is ironic given the underlying message.
I doubt if you'll find this at the local multiplex, but if you do appreciate good cinema it's well worth finding somewhere that's showing it. Cracking stuff!