‘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?

Movie: Copie conforme (Certified Copy)

Copie conforme (Certified Copy) stars French actress Juliette Binoche, perhaps best known in the English world for her role in The English Patient, or the foodie-romance Chocolat, and British operatic baritone William Shimell.

James Miller is an English writer of a new essay entitled ‘Certified Copy’ (Copie Conforme/Copia Conforme), which addresses authenticity and originality vs. the value of copies in art. Elle (Binoche) attends a lecture in Italy by Miller, but the film is immediately ambiguous about the relationship Elle & James have with each other. At first, it seems as if they might be strangers, but as the film progresses, their relationship seems more like a marriage on the rocks, or even perhaps that of a man and his mistress. It is never defined. After posing for a shopkeeper as a couple married 15 years, their relationship becomes unclear. The bickering, the intensity of their arguments; all are essential to keeping the viewer guessing as to their true nature.

The film is an excellent pas de deux; it may not be appreciated by everyone, as it is fairly undramatic until towards the end, and is very much a character-driven piece. Binoche is fantastic as Elle. It’s impossible not to feel for her, and to commiserate with her anger over Miller’s apparent indifference. And William Shimell as James Miller is convincing and subtle. One might never guess that his background is in opera (though his voice is a delight to listen to, whether he is speaking English, French, or a broken Italian.)

The language varies during the film: Elle is a native of France, James is a native of England, and the film is set in Tuscany. He speaks English, mainly, and some French, with a tiny smattering of Italian. She speaks all three languages fluently. Depending on the scene, they switch back and forth. James seems nearly as comfortable in French as in English, though he reverts to English during times of frustration and stress. Elle is comfortable in all languages, though she uses French during conversations with her son and when she is angry or sad.

As the film progresses, so does the relationship between Elle and James. One leaves the theatre wondering: are they married? were they married? The film ends with more questions than answers, but in some ways that is its charm. There are no easy answers, no quick endings with plots tied up in a neat bow. It’ll provoke conversation long after the reel has finished.