Like a lot of foreign films these days, Michael Haneke’s Caché holds static shots for absurdly long times, encouraging the viewer to scan the frame for more meaning than the actors and dialogue are providing. But Caché is almost cruelly playful about the long-take game. Haneke’s shots occasionally culminate in something unexpected—even something shockingly violent—and the director uses his “it might happen, so you better watch” methodology to tease the audience with scenes where nothing seems to happen at all. Caché ends with a long stretch of deceptive nothingness, including a final shot over the closing credits that would answer a lot of questions, if only the viewer could tell what was going on.
Caché also opens with one of those shots: an extended take of a Parisian home exterior, which is apparently being videotaped. The homeowners, newscaster Georges (played by Daniel Auteuil) and his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche), find the tape on their doorstep and watch it with mounting dread as they see themselves coming and going out their own front door. Then they get another, similar tape, followed by some crude drawings. There’s no evident threat in any of this, though it’s clear that someone wants Georges and Anne to know they’re being watched, and that at least one of them may have done something horrible. Georges pretends to be ignorant of why anyone would want to creep him out, but he quickly flashes back to an embarrassing incident from his childhood and secretly begins an investigation into the person he thinks may be responsible for the tapes. The investigation doesn’t go well, as Georges’ egotism and arrogance have him pushing for a resolution that may be impossible.
Caché is a critic-friendly movie because it’s formally rigorous and seems to be about something important—something to do with Western complicity in the degradation of immigrant cultures. But Haneke never tips his hand, and cynical commentators might speculate that he avoids saying what he means because he doesn’t really have anything to say.
It doesn’t matter. Caché may or may not offer new insights into how a man of privilege acquires his social position through subtle exploitation, or how the mere suggestion of guilt can reveal a man’s hidden failings. The film works anyway, just as an exercise in building audience anxiety by withholding information. Haneke puts the viewer so completely on edge that even a scene of a man quietly getting ready for bed becomes as fraught with social meaning as any Luis Buñuel film, and as tense as any Hitchcock.