Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Michael Haneke
Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Lester Makedonsky
(R, 121 min.)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense
"The majority of men live lives of quiet desperation." Henry David Thoreau
If you are tired of Hollywood and the nonstop glitz and glamour, you may enjoy this French thriller. But don’t expect a fast paced whodunit with a tidy ending or you’ll be disappointed. The tension of Cache is far from white hot, but its slow burn is just as withering.
You know that uneasy feeling you get when you have lost your house keys, that vague anxiety you experience after a hang up phone call? Nothing directly menacing, but somehow you feel vulnerable, as if that closed window to your world has just opened a crack.
Which is exactly how Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) feel when they receive a videotape of the outside of their tidy Paris apartment. There’s not much on it except the occasional comings and goings of the residents. In fact, it has the cinematic blandness of the surveillance tape in your local parking garage, except that this “security” tape offers none. More tapes follow, as well as some simplistic drawings of bloody chickens and a child’s face smeared with a circle of blood.
So, in spite of delightful dinner parties with their intellectual friends, gourmet food Anne creates in her Euro-modern kitchen, and afternoon swim matches where they cheer on their sweet-faced twelve-year old son, Pierott, Georges and Anne are slowly but surely becoming unglued.
They handle it in French monotones – beautiful sounds with no inflection – any indications of stridency or panic kept carefully hidden beneath the perfect vowels. And “hidden’ is key here, since that is the translation of the film’s title.
The obvious hidden object, of course, is the camera that takes the taunting videos. But many other things are hidden as well. A huge chunk of it is Georges’ past; in particular some childhood cruelties he inflicted upon an Algerian orphan his parents had considered adopting. Not only does he try to keep this memory secret from his wife, but Georges himself refuses to acknowledge its lasting repercussions.
And many would argue that director Michael Haneke works pretty hard to hide things from his audience as well. There is, for instance, a strong clue embedded in the final long shot, a scenic overview of children mingling after school. It’s so easily missed – I’d say the rate is about 50/50 -- that some helpful critics have offered hints, such as “Look in the lower left side of the screen,” etc. A few befuddled and indignant moviegoers have even suggested that what is hidden is the final “lost” reel. Ironic and probably unintentionally hidden are the subtitles that appear a frustrating white on white in several instances.
Many have compared Cache to Hitchcock fare and found it wanting. Of course, most other thrillers would not stack up to the master’s, either, so, of course, they are right on. The action is anything but faced-paced and economical, but I don’t agree with one critic who blamed that on the now cheap digital video, which has now allowed filmmakers to become self-indulgent on a budget. Instead the slow pace works to frustrate and unravel us as much as the main characters who plod on with their daily lives dreading the next arrival in their mail. Unlike Hitchcock, there is no comic relief, no light banter between an icy blonde and her fast talking lead. This is, after all, France. a country that takes itself, its language and its food ever so seriously.
Like Hitchcock, however, we have a generally helpless police force, a voyeurism not unlike his Rear Window, and an upsetting vulnerability in the place you should consider the safest; i.e. your own home.
Some may understand the film best as an allegory for the French mistreatment of Algerians, Georges’ unacknowledged cruelty toward Majid, the Algerian orphan a metaphor for France itself. Thus, when Georges takes a sleeping pill and closes his curtain with what for many naturally impatient Americans is excruciating deliberation, he is all of France turning a blind eye to past injustices.
Haneke is also particularly incisive in exposing the hypocrisy of the French intellectual. Books “seem almost to overstuff” Georges’ house, not the leather clad kind that add a touch of elegance, but endless tomes in plain bland bindings, mirroring a kind of sterile intellectualism that characterizes this successful television book discussion host. He wears his haughty attitude almost as proudly as his very French nose, but alone in the editing room, George cuts philosophical discussion in favor of the salacious details of the author’s lives without a second thought.
You may appreciate or curse Haneke’s purposeful ambiguity and some other “artsy” elements. Which is the film proper and which the taunting video tapes, for instance? We are fooled outright on least two occasions and not certain on a few more, keeping us as off balance and suspicious as the beleaguered Georges and Anne. The lack of a soundtrack to cue our emotions and the uses of silence “almost like a second character,” may also frustrate or delight.
But long after you have left the darkened theatre, worked your way through as many cups of coffee as theoretical solutions, Cache will play out its final reel in your brain, whether or not you like it.
As noted by one travel writer, the best explanation for the mostly empty French churches is that the kitchen is now their hallowed ground. And certainly that is true for Anne. Her kitchen does not have stained glass windows, but it is filled with color and light and as such puts the bland book-walled living room to shame.
She may fume and sputter at George, but in the kitchen hers is a deft hand. Under the magic of her food, conversation flows as freely as the wine, and even the long and not too funny story of her guest reduces everyone to shrieks of laughter.
Enjoy this delicious dish that screams its French heritage across the room. And for any frustrated spouses, note the pounding of the chicken breasts. Perhaps that culinary therapy accounts for Anne’s ready smile at the dinner party.
Chicken Cordon Bleu
'Cordon Bleu' is a French term, literally translated as 'blue ribbon' that originally referred to an award for culinary excellence given to women cooks! The term can now apply to any superior cook (yes, men too), and also to this dish (chicken, ham and Swiss cheese slices, breaded and sautéed). This yummy version adds paprika and a creamy white wine sauce worthy of it's own blue ribbon. Two blue ribbon tastes in wedded bliss -- Chicken Cordon Bleu II!
Original recipe yield: 6 servings
6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
6 slices Swiss cheese
6 slices ham
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon paprika
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Pound chicken breasts if they are too thick. Place a cheese and ham slice on each breast within 1/2 inch of the edges. Fold the edges of the chicken over the filling, and secure with toothpicks. Mix the flour and paprika in a small bowl, and coat the chicken pieces.
Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the chicken until browned on all sides. Add the wine and bouillon. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.
Remove the toothpicks, and transfer the breasts to a warm platter. Blend the cornstarch with the cream in a small bowl, and whisk slowly into the skillet. Cook, stirring until thickened, and pour over the chicken. Serve warm.
Recipe Source: Behr Kleine