L’image caché: Essay on Haneke’s “Caché” (“Hidden”, 2005)

L’image caché:
Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005) and different types of mediation

Walid Afkir, Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche in Haneke's "Caché" ("Hidden", 2005)
Walid Afkir, Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche in Haneke’s “Caché” (“Hidden”, 2005)

Abstract
In Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005), forms of mediation – immediacy, hypermediacy and remediation – are used to reflect modern society’s television-driven demands. It turns out that these demands are desensitized. Caché tries to make the audience aware of these inhuman viewing demands.

Keywords
remediation; immediacy; mediation; hypermediacy; Caché; Haneke

Preface

‘(…) despite what TV shows us, and what the news stories tell us,
there is never just one truth. There is only a personal truth.’
Michael Haneke[1]

Not many films have caused such a public discussion as Michael Haneke’s 2005 thriller Caché, or Hidden, starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche. The film evokes remarkably fierce reactions and somehow the ‘pressure to talk’ (Cousins 2007: 223). Due to the ambiguous and profound nature of the motion picture, the interpretation well hasn’t yet dehydrated. On the contrary, years after its Cannes premiere, the film is still the centre of discussion, and new interpretations are still being thrown into the film’s sphere (Ezra and Sillars 2007: 221).

However, only a small amount of these interpretations go beyond the whodunit-elements of the film. It is not a surprise that most viewers are mainly intrigued by the question who’s behind the camera. Is it the son, is it the Algerian youth friend, is it the Algerian’s son – who is it? Here and there viewers proposed solutions[2], but eventually none of these fully covered the film’s multiple dimensions.

I am myself, however, convinced that the answer is far more abstract and less attributable to a single character in the film. It makes arguably more sense to ascribe the exposing point-of-view of the subjective camera to director Haneke, or to the audience itself, or even to modern society. The explanation of Caché is, in my view, not ‘hidden’ within the film, but within the processes of mediation the film employs.

In this essay, I will argue that Haneke’s Caché utilizes remediation to reflect modern society and its television-driven demands. There are three steps Caché takes to attain its end. First, it unravels the common process of immediacy; subsequently, the film makes us aware of the cinematic apparatus by creating a sense of hypermediacy; and, as its final punch,  it uses the other visual medium, television, to let us understand its subliminal way of thinking. To make this statement plausible, I will first define the aforementioned forms of mediation, after which I will apply myself to the case study of Haneke’s Caché.

1. Different types of mediation

In this paragraph, I will, on the basis of different scientific sources, describe three different forms of mediation: (1) immediacy, (2) hypermediacy, and (3) remediation. Especially the latter form is, in my opinion, of great importance in the analysis of Caché.

1.1 Immediacy

As Bolter and Grusin (1996: 315) state in their article, immediacy is a result of the ‘immersive’ aspects of the medium, which means that ‘it is a technology of mediation whose purpose is to disappear’. Although they utilize this definition to describe the working of virtual reality, it can be applied just as easily to media like film and television (Bolter and Grusin 1996: 316). Yet, regardless of the specific medium, the main complexity in the case of immediacy is simply the apparatus itself (Bolter and Grusin 1996: 315). Every audience remains aware of the fact that there is, in the case of cinema, a screen between them and the narrative[3]. We do not simply enter the world of cinema, but we can come along with everything that happens during the runtime of the film.

However, filmmakers can employ a range of techniques to draw the audience as much as possible into their films and therefore create a larger sense of immediacy. This sense is closely tied to a sense of authenticity, as filmmakers leave no stone unturned to ‘make their viewers feel as if they were “really” there’ (Bolter and Grusin 1996: 313).

1.2 Hypermediacy

This second form of mediation is closely tied to immediacy. Using the example of the rather remarkably titled computer system Microsoft Windows®, Lord (2008) describes hypermediacy as the awareness of an in-between medium. Bolter and Grusin (1996: 329) take this window metaphor even further, by stating that hypermediacy brings us as heterogeneous space, ‘in which representation is conceived of not as a window onto the world, but rather as “windowed” itself’. If immediacy makes the process of representation transparent and automated, hypermediacy draws the attention to multiple processes of representation and makes them thereby visible to the audience.

Concisely, we could apply Bolter and Grusin’s (1996: 334) final statement on hypermediacy, claiming that this form of mediation is the expression of ‘the tension between regarding visual space as mediated and regarding it as a “real” space that lies beyond mediation’. In short, this can be described as the strain between ‘looking at‘ and ‘looking through‘ (Lanham 1993; cited in Bolter and Grusin 1996: 334).

1.3 Remediation

The third form of mediation is remediation, which is closely tied to the subsequently defined aspect of premediation. Lord (2008) suggests that remediation creates the possibility for the film’s narrative to draw the audience’s attention to the precursor medium. This coalescence of the former and the present media enhances the telling of the story.

This definition is, naturally, based on Bolter and Grusin. These authors state (1996: 346) that remediation can be subdivided into three elements: remediation as the mediation of mediation; as the inseparability of mediation and reality; and as reform.

Remediation as the mediation of mediation refers to the dependence of an act of mediation upon other acts. Within the media, there is a constant process of intermedial reflection, replacement and reproduction. Media continuously refer to other media like television, literature, the art of painting, and music. Therefore, no media can be media without the existence of other media (Bolter and Grusin 1996: 346).

Remediation as the inseparability of mediation and reality implies that all media are real. And indeed, every medium is an artefact, a real mediated product. It consists of various “real” elements, like film is a combination of (for example) celluloid, celebrity, entertainment economics, and technologies of cinematography. To illustrate this, Bolter and Grusin (1996: 350) mention an everyday situation: a tourist takes a photograph in a museum, and other people avoid his camera. This is, however, not only a gesture of politeness, but unconsciously an acknowledgement of a process of mediation taking place. To literally cite these authors, ‘remediation is the mediation of reality because media themselves are real and because the experience of media is the subject of remediation’ (Bolter and Grusin 1996: 350).

Finally, remediation can function as reform. Each new medium improves the flaws of its predecessor. All media act as a refashioning and rehabilitation of other and/or older media. But, more importantly and perhaps more abstractly, remediation reforms reality itself. Media, and mainly television, are embodiments of cultural distinctions, and through processes of remediation, these distinctions become part of our reality.

2. Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005)

Before Michael Haneke’s film Caché will be analysed on the basis of the aforementioned theories, I will give a short plot outline in this paragraph.

Caché is about the seemingly happily married and successful couple of TV book show host Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil), and book publisher Anne Laurent (Juliette Binoche). Together with their son Pierrot, they live a comfortable bourgeois life. One day, this “happy bubble” is threatened by the delivery of a mysterious tape. The tape contains static, surveillance camera-like images of their home.

And the tapes keep coming. However harmless, the tapes get on the couple’s nerves, mostly because they cannot see and do not know the tapes’ sender. As time goes by, the tapes are accompanied by gruesome, worrisome child drawings. Slowly but surely, these deliveries bring out Georges’ memories of an horrifying event in his youth – but he hides from everyone in his surroundings, including his more and more alienated wife.

The police, however, can not help the worried couple, because there is no apparent threat lying within these tapes. Therefore, Georges starts an investigation himself, which leads him, on the basis of the tapes, to the apartment of an Algerian man named Majid (Maurice Benichou). This man’s parents used to work for Georges’ family when they were young, but after they were killed in the 1961 Paris massacre, Majid lived at Georges’ place.

Georges confronts Majid with the tapes, but he denies any involvement. However, this confrontation leads to unpleasant flashbacks for Georges, which enhance his certain feeling of guilt. His reticence more and more enlarges the gap between him and his wife. Meanwhile, the paranoia in the Laurent family reaches a climax, when son Pierrot does not show up one night. Georges and Anne suspect Majid of kidnapping their son. A confrontation with both him and his son leads, however, to nothing but a one night imprisonment for the two Algerians. Hereafter, Majid wants to prove to Georges that he did not send the tapes, and thus he desperately slits his throat in front of Georges.

It is revealed that Georges is the cause that Majid was sent to an orphanage instead of being adopted by Georges’parents. After Majid’s death, his son comes up to Georges, but their conversation is one of denial. In the last shot, we see Majid’s son encounter Georges’ son Pierrot, filmed in the same style as the tapes. We don’t hear their conversation. The sender of the tapes is never unravelled.

3. “Where mediation is caché

Now that the plot is mostly described (and inevitably spoiled), I will analyse in this paragraph the way the aforementioned forms of mediation function in Caché. After a relatively brief analysis of the working of immediacy and hypermediacy, I will explain the meaning of remediation in this film.

3.1 Immediacy in Caché: beyond the hidden camera

Opening shot. The first of many tapes that constantly observe the Laurent maison.

Opening shot. The first of many tapes that constantly observe the Laurent maison.

One would probably not expect a sense of immediacy in a film, that draws the attention in such an explicit manner to the medium (the camera). Yet, Caché utilizes more or less conventional techniques to immediate the narrative. The film starts with a protracted shot of the house of the Laurent family (illustration 1). Nothing seems to happen, but then suddenly we here the voices of Georges Laurent and his wife Anne off-screen. They are apparently in the same position as the audience, since they are commenting on the images we are watching.

This remarkable editing helps us enter the narrative of Caché. We get the idea that these things are happening in the present time, “here and now”. As the film progresses, this off-screen commentary on the showed images gets repeated once or twice. Regardless of the integral displayed tapes, Haneke gives us conventional shots in following the struggles of the Laurent family. Although these shots are more static and contain more long takes than in an average film, this cinematography can be identified as plain picturing of events. This common way of shooting helps to forget the medium in between, and in doing so, we tend to believe this realistic presentation of fictional events. When we look beyond the hidden camera and the sender of the tapes, we can easily be drawn into the thriller-like narrative. Yet, immediacy’s antithesis prevents us from being fully unaware of the medium.

3.2 Hypermediacy in Caché: we “are” the camera

Naturally, the most striking element in Caché is the mysterious, subjective camera. The above mentioned off-screen commentary of the characters of Georges and Anne gives the spectator a feeling of personal involvement, as if we are part of the director’s conspiracy to expose the lives of the Laurent family. In the first instance, it seems that Georges and Anne share their perceptions and worries with the spectator, but later on the spectator seems to “betray” the ones that trusted him. This may sound a little melodramatic, but it  means that, as the film progresses, the audience “becomes” the secret creator of the tapes. When the spectator realizes that these tapes cannot be attributed to one of the film’s characters, he does not share the whodunit-worries of the Laurent couple anymore. Now, he simply scrutinizes their movements closely and mercilessly.

This transformation causes a shift in our viewing pattern. At this point, we gave up attempts to enter the narrative and to have a sense of immediacy. On the contrary, we accepted the fact that there is a medium in between, and more specific a surveillance-like camera. Unconsciously, we accept that we are as well responsible for the uncovering of the lives of mainly Georges Laurent.

3.3 Remediation in Caché: the role of television

Now that the more superficial aspects of mediation – that is, the processes that have influence on the film’s perception or style rather than its narrative – in Caché have been analysed, I will analyse the reason for these extraordinary steps into the realms of mediation. Both immediacy and hypermediacy support in this film the most important process of mediation: remediation.

The TV book show, hosted by Georges Laurent (middle).

The TV book show, hosted by Georges Laurent (middle).

In my opinion, Caché is all about the telly (illustration 2). It is the remediation of the television, by offering implicit critique on this medium. In the film’s perspective, television exploits suffering by constantly showing abstractions of events, mainly events of violence. Because of this distance, viewers become desensitized to violence. Yet, as Haneke makes the spectator partly responsible for the exposing of the lead characters’ lives, the viewer gets criticized: in the end, it is the audience, and not the medium, that ‘decides to disregard the images presented’ (Goswami 2005).

At the same time, the sense of immediacy that is created blurs the line between representation and reality. Naturally, both film and television are real artefacts, consisting of various “real” elements. But, as I mentioned before, we experience the presence of the medium of the television, and this experience of media is the subject of remediation.

In the remediation of the media experience, we can see the reflection of modern society’s demands. Throughout the years, television has more and more become a voyeuristic medium, culminating in television shows like Big Brother. In programs like these, we are offered the possibility to watch the behaviour of human beings caged in an extremely mediated house, that closely resembles hamster labyrinths. In Caché, we can see the same process: we follow different characters like flies on the wall, and the mediated nature of their ‘house’ – in this case, their entire world – wields psychological pressure on them.

This psychological pressure results in a true reform of reality. By simply “being media”, the surveillance-like, subjective camera breaks through the superficial reality of the lives of the lead characters, and exposes their true colours. This observing camera, which is strongly related to the techniques of television, makes the cultural distinctions so present on television (for example, in the TV book program of Georges) part of reality. Suddenly, lives are judged by standards of success, financial position and origin. This is illustrated by the juxtaposition of the lives of Georges and Majid.

Conclusion

Caché is a fascinating experiment with forms of mediation. By making the viewer aware of both the medium and even the viewer’s unawareness – created by a sense of immediacy – the film draws the attention to the way the audience watches.

In its voyeuristic topic, it fulfils the spectator’s demands driven by television ideologies represented in shows like Big Brother. A modern day audience is used to close scrutiny of everyday lives. Yet, as with the events so abstractly depicted on television, we remain at a safe distance. The suffering of Georges and Anne Laurent is being exploited, and we have become desensitized – mainly because the logic of hypermediacy has let us betray the characters whose worries we shared in the beginning.

And betrayal is the key word in modern society’s viewing demands. Every day, many lives are being mercilessly displayed on the small screen, and the desensitized audience has no devices to value these lives properly. We ‘disregard the images presented’ (Goswami 2005); the audience is safe and sound in its golden cage – supplied with remote controls.

This may be a bold statement, but in my humble view, it is precisely what Caché shows us. The viewer has, in general, become aware of the medium in between, and modern society’s television-driven demands do not contain the desire for immediacy. On the contrary, the audience is pleased by the ‘comfortable distance from the subjects within the images being exhibited’ (Goswami 2005).

The audience is also not interested in the way media reform reality, or influence people’s lives. As the bourgeois comfort gets mercilessly unravelled by the (television) camera, so are the lives of all that are being surrounded by mediation – whether this is in a isolated environment such as the Big Brother-house, or simply in the present mediated society. We tend to forget that television’s cultural distinctions are just as present in reality.

Caché is not about Georges and Anne Laurent. It is not about who sends thevideotapes. It is about the way modern society is influenced by television, and about the desensitized demands of a comfortably distanced audience. Through processes of immediacy, hypermediacy and eventually remediation, Michael Haneke tries to make us aware of this alarming situation. And to reach this goal, the film ‘distracts, confounds, and frustrates so many viewers’ (Goswami 2005). Un monde de mediation dans l’image caché.

This essay has been written as a final assignment of the bachelor course of Performing at the Edge: Transmedialities, part of the Media and Culture studies at the University of Amsterdam, under the auspices of dr. Catherine Lord et al. All rights reserved. Original copyrights are owned by this weblog’s author.

References

Literature

Adorno, Theodor W. ‘Transparancies on film’. Translated by Thomas Y. Levin. New German Critique, no. 24/25, Special double issue on new German cinema (Autumn 1981 – Winter 1982): 199-205.

Austin, Guy. ‘Drawing trauma. Visual testimony in Caché and J’ai 8 ans‘. Screen, vol. 48, no. 4 (Winter 2007): 529-536.

Bolter, Jay, Richard Grusin. ‘Remediation’. Configurations, vol. 4, no. 3 (Fall 1996): 311-358.

Bordwell, David, Kristin Thompson. Film art. An introduction. International Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Cousins, Mark. ‘After the end. Word of mouth and Caché‘. Screen, vol. 48, no. 2 (Summer 2007): 223-226.

Ezra, Elizabeth, Jane Sillars. ‘Introduction’. Screen, vol. 48, no. 2 (Summer 2007): 211-213.

Goswami, Chiranjit. ‘Caché‘. Not Coming To A Theatre Near You. Notcoming.com. 21-10-2005. 7-6-2008 <http://notcoming.com/reviews/cache&gt;.

Grusin, Richard. ‘Premediation’. Criticism, vol. 46, no. 1 (Winter 2004): 17-39.

Other sources

Lord, Catherine. ‘The fortunes of remediation’. Lecture at the University of Amsterdam, 2008.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Amazon.com. Daily update. 12-6-2008 <http://www.imdb.com&gt;.

Illustrations

Ill. 1: ‘Caché – The beginning’. Culture Snob. Jeff Ignatius. 11-6-2008 <http://
http://www.culturesnob.com/images/entries/cache1.jpg>.

Ill. 2:  ‘Hidden – image 6′. DVDBeaver. Gary Tooze. 10-6-2008 <http://
http://www.dvdbeaver.com/FILM/DVDReviews22/a%20Michael%20Haneke%20Cach%C3%A9%20Hidden%20Juliette%20Binoche/a%20Michael%20Haneke%20Cach%C3%A9%20Hidden%20Juliette%20Binoche%20HIDDEN-6.jpg>.


[1] ‘Michael Haneke – Biography’. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Amazon.com. 10-6-2008 <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0359734/bio&gt;.

[2] See, for example, the many discussions on the discussion board of the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), for example the analysis of user ‘raoul_coutard’: <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387898/board/
nest/104160135>. Registration required.

[3] The term ‘narrative’ is used in this essay according to the standardized definition of Bordwell and Thompson (2008: 75): ‘a chain of events in cause-effect relationship occurring in time and space’. Although the definition seems to let no room for flexibility, it has become a common term for films in general, not only the ’cause-effect’ structured Hollywood narratives.

1 Comment

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One response to “L’image caché: Essay on Haneke’s “Caché” (“Hidden”, 2005)

  1. Morgan S. Trouillet

    Hello. I’m in a master of modern literature and a great follower of cinema. I just wanted to say that this was a rather convincing work mostly because you’re right to throw away the irrelevant “detective story” question to focus on what the film says about the use of the moving image (cinema but also television) by modern societies and mostly its perversion, a recurring theme in Haneke’s violent films. “Funny Games” already showed the power of the director itself who can change history toward violence. Linking “Caché” to other Haneke’s films can provide answers : for instance, his latest movie, winner at Cannes, “The White Ribbon” where violence is always hidden. Moreoever, the structure of the frame also helps, since Haneke always re-constructs his frame through windows, doors or of course screens.

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