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Michael Haneke

     As often in the films of Austrian filmmaker, Michael Haneke, a snug, somewhat smug, bourgeoisie home in Cache (Hidden) is suddenly uprooted by brutality and violence. Here, it's the Paris residence of Georges (Daniel Autueil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche) Laurent, he the host of a literary talk show, she in publishing. Threatening tapes arrive at their domicile, and the obvious candidate for who is behind them is a poor Algerian, Majid, perhaps revenging an ill Georges did to Majid when they were children.

      At the Cannes Film Festival last May, where Cache premiered in Competition, the first question at the press conference came from an Algerian journalist. Is this film really about the occupation of Algeria, with the Laurents standing in for French colonialism?

      "I would be very unhappy if the film was reduced to the Algerian question," Haneke answered. "In every country, you could find the same political situation, like Yugoslavia or Austria. Rather, it's a very personal film about guilt. You could talk about this character [Georges] who takes a couple of pills, closes the curtains, lies in bed trying to forget. We do the same with the Third World, give a couple of million dollars so we can forget."

      A Palestinian journalist followed, demanding of Haneke: "Why did you have an Algerian character commit suicide? It's excessive! It hurts us!"

      An exasperated Haneke replied: "I beg you, please, please, if you write criticisms, good or bad, it doesn't matter, but don't tell the story line. This film depends on tension." And he defended having things in his movie which are not immediately accessible: "When I go to movies, those I admire are those which destabilize me, unsettle me. Mainstream films give you the answer before you get the question."

Televisions play constantly in the background during Cache, including news of the American invasion of Iraq. Is that symbolic? Haneke: "We fixed a neutral date and chose news items on television on that date. It had nothing to do with the content. But of course, you always see images of war, and that fit with the subject of the film."

How important is it that the accused character, Georges, is an intellectual? "I think that intellectuals are human beings like everyone else," Haneke deadpanned, "but it doesn't help from an emotional point of view to have a great deal of knowledge. I'm an intellectual, but being one isn't a great deal of help in my private life."

Did Auteuil wish to add anything about Georges? "I try to avoid asking questions of the director to keep things simple," Auteuil said. "I like to be told to come in and come out, faster, slower. It wasn't a difficult part because the conditions in which we worked were a place of playfulness, joyfulness."

The joyfulness came later for Binoche: "I was absolutely paranoid because Haneke said nothing to me in the beginning. Did he have any interest in me? After a month, he said, 'I don't think there's a problem.' After that, he never stopped talking!" Binoche admitted that she'd skipped out on watching Haneke's most terrifying, sadistic film, Funny Games. "I was a bit frightened. We see his works as a cold shower, though they are necessary. Maybe not every picture, but we should see them."
      Ateuil piped in: "I always say as a joke that it's more bearable to be in a Haneke film than to watch a Haneke film."

(January, 2006)


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