Sunday, February 12, 2006

Blog-a-Thon: Code inconnu

I believe that this is my 100th blog entry (if, that is, you count my very first one, whose title and text are both "Just a test.") I could think of no more rewarding way of doing a hundredth post than partaking in one of these great blog-a-thons which have sprung up: one person's contribution to a larger community and dialogue.

Community and dialogue are precisely what are at stake--and in crisis--in Michael Haneke's Code inconnu (2000). Racial divisions, generational divisions, gulfs between lovers. An "EU" styled social portrait if there ever was one, Haneke hits what notes he can in his running time without affecting a frantic pace.

Code inconnu tells a multilayered story almost as though one were surfing through television channels. The vignettes cut from one to another without conventional dramatic roundedness. This is not aleatory, however--though Haneke's actors give the impression of naturalism, his cuts still often come at pointed moments (cf. Juliette Binoche's supermarket fight with her boyfriend, when the heated conversation resumes to the mundane). The difficulty in dealing with Haneke is that he is, I suspect, fully aware of the paths he takes, conventional or otherwise, and like Brian De Palma, his work is essentially essayistic even if its vessel is fiction. The question of whether or not Code inconnu is exhilirating, entertaining, moving--to me--almost evaporates because the foremost question is whether or not they engage the viewer productively, to draw out new and active participants in Haneke's research into the production of social dissonance.

I don't even know for certain how much I like this film. Overall, if I were a guest on Ebert's show, sure, I'd give it a thumbs up. But what does that really mean? That I enjoyed Haneke's deft weaving of narratives personal and social? That I enjoyed the progressiveness with which Haneke's conception depicted European diversity in our day and age? That I was pleased by my own ability to recognize and appreciate both the deft narrative and sociopolitical nuance? One of the valuable things about Code inconnu is that it seems to be aware of this question of valuation. The scenes culled from Binoche's film-within-a-film, which may be quite perplexing for the first-time viewer, bear out the problem of investing one's faith and interest in a scene before one knows its context. They represent an exercise (but only an exercise: in viewing a film there are no real risks) in judging too quickly, in formulating an opinion before we give of ourselves the patience to let something impart its own truths on us. By extension these scenes are, for me, commentaries on the question of one's relationship to the cinema itself, and though I have not found the answers that Haneke himself may want us to arrive at (if he has any), I suspect part of the resonance of the scenes, like this film, come in recognizing and fruitfully exploring the separation that can result between immediate experience & rational reflection.

(So, this is coming a little early for the blog-a-thon, but Matt's already put his two cents in, and even if I don't live in Australia myself, it's Monday somewhere. And more convenient for me ...)

10 comments:

girish said...

Great entry, Zach. As usual!

"...when the heated conversation resumes to the mundane". One quick beat from the pregnancy conversation (we never find out if she is or isn't) to "Did you remember to pick up the rice?"

Matt said...

You touch upon something in this post, Zach, that I nearly did in mine, but ultimately decided not to: how much I actually like the film. I like it just fine, but don't reall love it; nor, I suspect, does it matter either way (hence my exclusion of that information from my post). I agree with you entirely that Haneke's films are, in the end, not about 'like' or 'dislike,' but about something else beyond such distinctions.

Eric Henderson said...

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that Juliette Binoche's character was the one who gave birth to all those deaf children.

Mubarak Ali said...

Just echoing what you and Matt mention re: the complex reactions to Code Unknown (my intrinsic response to Caché was pretty much the same). Unlike his latest film though (which I do 'like' quite a bit), there is an undercurrent of haphazard/urgent emotions in Code Unknown beneath its icy form, which justifies (for those seeking any such justification, that is) the quintessential Haneke approach to work upon the spectator's propensity for manipulation, which your last sentence beautifully lays out.

Michael said...

Zach, a nice post. I particularly like when you say that the scenes "bear out the problem of investing one's faith and interest in a scene before one knows its context." I agree that this works in one's relationship to the cinema (if there's anything that Haneke is doing, it's making us aware of our relationship to the process of film); I like how it also works at a larger thematic level -- how our relationship to reality, how our acceptance of illusions or conceptions or some other hindrance, affects our social and personal relationships. It's a particularly cunning and effective way of getting a point across, without resorting to more mundane or conventional methods.

For me, Code Unknown raises a question, a problem, and then leaves us to figure it out on our own.

Maya said...

"The scenes culled from Binoche's film-within-a-film, which may be quite perplexing for the first-time viewer, bear out the problem of investing one's faith and interest in a scene before one knows its context."

That's a strong insight. Before I understood the scene was enacted, it kept winging into my subsequent perception of the film. I kept investing a narrative to resolve my tension about the earlier scene.

Nomad said...

i still don't understand, it's make me confuse.

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