Surveillance and the indifferent gaze in Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005)

Studies in French Cinema – Volume 11, Number 2
May 2011

Surveillance and the indifferent gaze in Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005)


Caché’s evocation of colonialism in Algeria does not, however, confine its political and ethical implications to France’s postcolonial legacy. As Wheatley writes, ‘Haneke has long railed against his films being seen as treatments of specific national situations’ (Wheatley 2009: 156). This advocacy is necessary, for indeed,

the dominant critical response to this film in the UK and the US has been the attempt to limit its exploration of colonial culpabilities to its French setting […] a symptomatic acting out of the film’s themes of displacement, avoidance and the refusal to look close to home. (Ezra and Sillars 2007b: 215)

This critical impulse towards the displacement of responsibility, both geographic (it happened in France) and temporal (it happened in the 1960s), is all the more notable because of Caché’s implicit and explicit referencing of contemporary political situations. In fact, the film’s treatment of Algeria seems at times almost a cipher through which to critique the manufacture of paranoia for political ends in post-9/11 neocolonialist ideology…Deploying Resnais’s sensitivity ‘to the play between similarity and difference, reference and transformation’ (Beugnet 2007: 228), Caché connects the now-distant Algerian war to the unspoken advent of the neocolonial ‘war on terror’ currently in play throughout Central Asia and the Middle East.

This implicit legacy (from the Holocaust and Vichy to Algeria to Afghanistan and Iraq) is made explicit in the scene in which Georges and Anne mistakenly believe their son Pierrot has been kidnapped. Convinced Majid is the imagined abductor, Georges and Anne ask the Parisian police to arrest him: a simple case of miscommunication becoming paranoid persecution of the ‘terrorist’. While anxiously discussing Pierrot’s disappearance, Georges and Anne are backlit by a wide-screen television located in the exact centre of their living room’s bookshelves. Dominating the frame both visually and sonically, the television broadcasts war images from Afghanistan and Iraq. The trauma of these contemporary war zones, like the trauma suffered by Majid, is reduced to mere image or spectacle. Stripped of emotional complexity, Majid becomes a screen onto which Georges projects his own paranoia: ‘Algerians in the film can only deny their part in a narrative that has already given them roles that justify accusation and criminalization’ (Khanna 2007: 242). This diegetic embedding of televised images of today’s so-called terrorists, a paranoia embodied by the nameless figure of the Islamic male, establishes a clear parallel between Georges’s anxious projection of guilt onto a guiltless Majid, and the justificatory rhetoric of today’s pre-emptive wars.”

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