Friday, February 6, 2009

Never Expecting the Unexpected in Cache

A collective and incredulous moan could be heard from the class after Cache ended as everyone thought, including me, "What just happened? Who sent those tapes? Majid? His son? Georges's son? Ugh." The spectator is never given this answer, and it seems like director, Michael Haneke, revels in tormenting us with that fact. As I explained previously in another post, the classical Hollywood narrative neatly wraps up the film's story line in a sugar coated version of reality. Haneke's film, however, breaks all the rules when it comes to classic cinema conventions causing the spectator to question his or her own involvement with the film as well as the director's purpose in doing so.

Cache centers around an upper-middle class family in Paris, the Laurents, that continues to receive videotapes of the outside of their house and other various strange locations. Throughout the process of trying to figure who is sending them the tapes the audience gets a glimpse into Georges Laurent's (Daniel Auteuil) childhood, specifically relating to an Algerian boy that his family was going to adopt, Majid (Maurice Benichou). By the end of the film we are left as confused, if not even more so, as to who sent the tapes from when the film began. There is no resolution to the story line whatsoever (or perhaps there is, according to one blogger). However, the audience almost expects this absence after nearly 2 hours of unconventional cinema is thrust upon them.

According to Graeme Turner in his book Film as Social Practice, "as realism became the dominant mode of feature film production, editing was required to contribute to the illusion that the film was unfolding naturally, without the intervention of the film-maker" (87). Editing thus serves as a tool for enhancing the film and making the spectator feels as if what he or she is watching is actually real without question. If the spectator beings to question the reality of the film he or she is then fighting "against 'the impression of reality'" (Bonitzer 291) that is created. One such way that this reality can be broken is by the spectator questioning "Who is watching this?" as Daniel Dayan puts it in his essay "The Tudor-Code of Classical Cinema" (125). Once that question is posed the spectator becomes aware of the mechanics of film and "[film] must hide its operations, 'naturalizing' its functioning and its messages in some way" (126) in order for that impression of reality to work. Conventionally, in order to prevent this questioning of "who is watching" is by using the shot/reverse-shot (see this favorite example of mine from Pride and Prejudice starting at about 0:20 until 4:00).

In using this technique the camera occupies the space of one of the characters and thus resolves the question of who is viewing the scene. In other words, the off-screen space becomes on-screen and it reassures the spectator that what he or she is watching is real and not just what the camera is choosing to film. The idea of the camera is no longer in the spectator's mind. Dayan explains that the "reverse shot has 'sutured' the hole opened in the spectator's imaginary relationship with the filmic field by his perception of the absent-one" (128), with the "absent-one" being the off-screen character/viewer.

This idea of "suturing" in the spectator does not happen in Cache and that is what makes it so unconventional and jarring. Several times during the film the spectator wonders "who is watching" and it feels as if there is a constant camera present. This camera feels eerie to the spectator because if we never know who is doing the viewing we think that the characters are constantly being filmed by the person sending the tapes. By pulling the spectator out of the reality of the film we become the "absent-one." We hardly ever get those shot/reverse-shots that suture us in, instead we get lots of long takes, close-ups, and long establishing shots. Even in the shots that almost appear like the conventional shot/reverse-shot, such as when Georges and his son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky) are in the car, we do not get the same technique. The camera pans from one character to the other, however the editing used was not that of the shot/reverse-shot because the camera does not take the position of either character, but rather some unknown "absent-one." Another example is of the dinner party scene. The camera is not taking the position of one person when there are close-ups but rather it feels like there is just a camera upon their faces and not the suturing affect of the "absent-one's" view.

With breaking convention, Haneke creates a film that encourages the spectator to rethink the narrative and the classic Hollywood ending. He does not want us to watch a film and know what to expect out of every scene or to expect an ending. He does not want us to look at the patterns of film and automatically use them as a cue for what is about to happen. Instead, I believe he pushes the spectator to form his or her own opinions about the film. The film isn't going to tell us who sent the tapes, but rather we are supposed to infer what has happened via all the information Haneke lays out for us in the film. If we closely examine his shots then we can certainly come up with answers for ourself rather than letting the camera and editing do all the work for us. Neither music nor the camera is going to tell us what to feel when we watch this film. Because of this, I hold an appreciation for the film itself and Haneke's unconventional filmic techniques. I might never figure out "whodunnit" but that's what makes the film so compelling, and it's ending so realistic!


Kevin Fu said...

I liked how you contrasted Haneke's style with the realism of feature film production. I agree with you that whereas continuity editing in the latter is designed to make you forget about the camera, Haneke forces you to realize that there is a camera, by not occupying, as you mentioned, the space of a character.

But I disagree that suturing does not happen in Cache. If I understood the term correctly its an unavoidable feature of any film that has cuts (that is, not one continuous take) because the viewer needs to actively connect the two shots in their minds, and is thus sutured into the film. But it is true that instead of feeling sutured into this film I often felt rejected from it.

I also find it interesting that you described the ending as realistic because, in part, of the lack of a conventional sense of closure, and I wish you said more about it. What about an unresolved ending made it more realistic? Would not the events of the film be as plausible even if we were let in on the secret?

Sarah Goetz said...

Wynn Hunter said...

I agree with you that Haneke’s unconventional filmic techniques are precisely what make this film so compelling and realistic. As you noted, this film provides a new and interesting (and oddly uncomfortable) experience in that we never feel sutured into the narrative. The long takes, close ups, two shots, and notable lack of shot reverse shots never place us neatly into the scenes. Rather, we are left wondering, “whose perspective am I taking” and “who is seeing this”. It almost seemed like Haneke knew that we would be asking these questions and deliberately frustrated our expectations to feel included in order to increase the tension and voyeuristic feel of the film. I think he wanted to force us to “pull back” from the narrative itself in order to view it from a more critical perspective despite the ensuing loss of pleasure that comes from being sutchered into the film. Perhaps, as you said, it may have been his intent to have us rethink the classical Hollywood conventions and narrative structure that we are so familiar with. Either way, I agree with you that these unconventional tactics are deserving of a good deal of appreciation.