(2005) dir. Michael Haneke
Really interesting French psychological and political thriller. Highly recommended.
I’d read about this film in a lot of people’s lists of best films of 2005, but strangely didn’t know about it myself. A middle class French family begins receiving surveillance video tapes of their house and strange child-like drawings suggesting violence. The mystery starts there and the film remains open and challenging throughout.
The film has many aspects that intrigue, from the voyeuristic camera shots that watch the family’s house, which are shown full screen and start like the film’s POV, long, largely action-free shots of their building, only occasionally disrupted by a pedestrian or a car passing by. There is disruption for the viewer, realizing that they are watching a video that is part of the narrative, internally, rather than watching the film directly, per se. This opens the film and happens repeatedly throughout, heightening awareness of the visual look. This motif and its disjunctures work to unsettle the viewer as the mystery slowly develops.
The film is also political and potentially metaphorical, as its ambiguous history and understanding of events embodies the broader scope of the French relationship with Algeria and Algerian immigrants. In many ways, the film’s efficacy strikes home because it lacks overtness. The film is about the “hidden” things in society, in the family unit, in a person’s history, in a cultural landscape, and perhaps even a national identity.
The film is effective as a thriller, but admirable as a critical piece, with depths on many fronts, and a perspective of unveiling a story without ever becoming definitive or pedantic.