A few months ago, as Paris burned, the world learned about France's dirty little secret: decaying suburbs filled with Moslem immigrants and their generations who live in angry poverty, waiting for their piece of the quiche.
In Michael Haneke's Caché, which means "hidden," the political becomes bizarrely personal for Georges (Daniel Auteuil), a popular TV book-chat host who begins to receive anonymous, two-hour-long videotapes showing nothing more than his family's home, shot from just across the street. At first he and his wife (Juliette Binoche) don't worry too much about their stalker. But then Georges receives a crudely drawn image of a face with a bloody mouth, and his teen-age son receives the same image at school with a note that purports to come from Georges (it doesn't). Then comes a drawing that means something to Georges: a chicken, with blood dripping from its severed neck.
The Paris police won't help until the stalker actually does something. So Georges, using clues from a few more tapes with different settings, concludes their assailant must be Majid, an Algerian child his family almost adopted in 1961, until something happened to turn the family against the boy. Georges was 6 at the time, Majid was slightly older, and they haven't seen each other in more than 40 years. Then Georges shows up at old Majid's apartment to confront him about the tapes.
Haneke is German but often works in France (he last made The Piano Teacher, with Isabelle Huppert), and he finished this film well before the 2005 Paris riots. His timing was remarkably fortuitous. He's a demanding, difficult, even cruel psychological dramatist, and much of his work takes place in the realm of the barely explicable.
Haneke's political message is clear in Caché. His deeper meaning seems to explore the existential paradox of our privileged modern lives, which he presents in one detached episode after another between scenes of suspense. As Georges' melancholy old mother (Annie Girardot) -- who's increasingly infirm but happy to be alive -- teaches him, loneliness has nothing to do with being alone. And by the way, caution: Animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture.
If Caché seems to leave us with a mystery, it's more because Haneke simply chooses not to solve it. He tells the story from Georges' limited point of view, so we know only what Georges knows (or what Georges thinks he knows). We're left with a series of disturbing events and their concomitant metaphors for French history and personal responsibility. How much can Caché finally say about cultural hegemony when its precipitating injustice against young Majid involves the fears and jealousies of a child? Perhaps that's the point of Haneke's disturbing, beautifully made film. In French, with subtitles.