‘What did we suppress in order to become what we are?’

I just finished watching the film Caché (Hidden), directed by Michael Haneke, and starring Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil. I’d seen it once before, during a film festival, and I came out of the theatre completely baffled by what I had seen. Thus, I decided to watch it once again and attempt to further understand the film.

In summary, Georges and his wife Anne receive a series of videotapes, each of which contains a long film exposure of the outside of their house. Later videotapes are wrapped in what appears to be child’s drawings. Over the course of the film, the footage on the tapes becomes more personal and Georges realizes who may be sending the tapes. Discovering the identity of the sender evokes old and guilty memories for Georges.

In an interview provided in the DVD’s special features, Michael Haneke states that the film was meant to discuss and evoke the French and Algerian conflict in the 60s, particularly the deaths of 200 Algerian protesters in the Seine, but to portray this conflict and guilt on a personal level, and to show what sort of things can be swept under the carpet. He compares the ability of a nation to forget or hide tragic things with that of a family or couple able to continue on with domestic life as usual, even though difficult or strange things are occurring. Hence his question: ‘What did we suppress in order to become what we are?’

That question resonated with me. As Haneke points out, Georges as a six year old has acted in a way that is considered normal, his protection of his own status and place in his home, as younger children are not as cognizant of the needs of others. Yet this action by young Georges has lifelong implications for the Algerian boy his parents were caring for. It makes me wonder, what has each person suppressed in their life, things they have done that they are ashamed of, that might crop up later?

As a writer, it intrigues me, and it would be an incredible basis for a story, or an intense back-story for a character. The wounds a person bears have an impact on how they act, and how they live, even years later. For myself as a writer, one of the hardest parts of writing is coming up with that back-story, that wound, and making it such that it colours the actions of the character, intertwining with every part of their being. Haneke’s question is going to become part of my plotting, I’m sure of it.

Are there films that you’ve seen which influence your writing?

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 8: Daniel Auteuil

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Daniel Auteuil is one of the very few actors whose films I will watch without reserve. If I could find more of his films here, I’d be in heaven.

The first film I saw was Sade. Set during the French Revolution, it focused on the imprisonment of aristocrats by the Jacobins, including the infamous Marquis de Sade. The film has been compared both favourably and unfavourably to others about the Marquis (including Quills), but I prefer it. The acting and storyline are not overdone and the historical drama is solid. Due to the lack of choice at my local video store, this was the only film I saw for several years. Fortunately the ease of renting online and buying from Amazon helped change that.

From viewing Sade, I then found the films Le Bossu and Ma saison préférée. I recommend both, but it is films like La fille sur le pont and 36 Quai des Orfèvres that I absolutely adore. He’s also starred in comedies (Le meilleur ami), as an unlikeable businessman who has to find someone to pose as his best friend, and the occasional English film (The Lost Son), where he plays a private eye living in London, an exile from his native Paris, who begins to investigate the trade in child slavery.

When I stop to think about what it is exactly about Daniel Auteuil that draws me in… I just can’t put a finger on it. I really can’t. He’s not classically handsome, like Cary Grant (or any other dark-haired actor you might care to name), but I can’t ignore his on-screen presence.

As Sade, he evokes horror and distaste in the other characters, yet manages to win over the young Emilie as well as the audience. Sade is famous, but Auteuil also makes him easy to relate to, very human. As Gabor in ‘La fille sur le pont’, he compels Adele, intrigues her, and tricks her, but he’s a man with many failings. His characters have depth along with the charisma.

In addition to the films mentioned above, I also highly recommend: Peindre ou faire l’amour, Caché, and MR 73. Or you could just go down the list at IMdB.

And a very happy birthday to my favourite writer and friend, Tiffany Reisz!

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 2: French films

I won’t make the attempt to list every French language film that I love, but here are three of my especial favourites…

La fille sur le pont (The Girl on the Bridge), with Daniel Auteuil and Vanessa Paradis.

Adele is a woman with nothing to lose, standing on a bridge over the Seine, willing herself to jump. Instead, she meets Gabor (Daniel Auteuil, one of my favourite actors), a knife-thrower needing a new assistant. Hardly a safe choice, but far better than cold river water. It’s a strange partnership, but one that compels. (Also, for those that are into it, Daniel Auteuil has some very nice guyliner. Perhaps that’s partly why I like this movie so much! Yum!) The film is shot in black and white and the theme track is by Angelo Badalamenti, sung by Marianne Faithfull.

And that connection leads me to the next film, actually a mini-series. Directed by Josée Dayan, with the soundtrack by the aforementioned Angelo Badalamenti, Les liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) is based upon the novel, but brought forward into 1960s France. It features a diverse, all-star cast, including Catherine Deneuve, Rupert Everett, Nastassia Kinski and Leelee Sobieski. If you can, pick this one up in its 3-disc edition, as the 1-disc edition has been edited down (and I have yet to be convinced that the dialogue wasn’t overdubbed by other actors). This is by far my favourite adaptation of the novel. I’m not at all fond of the one starring John Malkovich. The film Valmont (with Colin Firth) is worth a look. But this version… it sizzles. Plus it has Catherine Deneuve, one of France’s premiere actresses.

And that brings me to the third film of this post, the very classic Belle de Jour. It’s probably Deneuve’s best known film, though it certainly wasn’t the first of hers I saw. (That honour goes to The Hunger, which also starred David Bowie and a young Susan Sarandon.) Severine is a young wife, bored and dissatisfied, and not physically intimate with her husband. She first satisfies herself with vivid, erotic fantasies, but takes those fantasies a step further when she becomes ‘Belle de jour’, a prostitute at a Parisian brothel.

Directed by surrealist master Luis Buñuel, Belle de Jour is a striking film, even if one is not very interested in slightly kinky sex and the BDSM tendencies of Severine’s erotic fantasies. Catherine Deneuve is a master of her art. I could watch her films for hours without complaint.

Next time you’re at the video store – oh, who are we kidding – you’re really looking on Netflix or something, since it is 2011 – check out one or all of these films. You won’t regret it.