Monday, January 15, 2007

Code inconnu

2000, France/Germany/Romania, directed by Michael Haneke
By Haneke's rigorous standards, Code inconnu counts as his most optimistic work, a rich, multi-layered portrait of intersecting lives in a Europe dealing with new realities that exist within and at its borders. As in many of his other films, the Western characters are caught in a paralysing anomie, their lives riven through with banal rhythms (Haneke seems to have a particular distaste for the supermarket), but here there's a clear sense of a path of escape from that suffocating routine, a path of some hopefulness (in contrast to the solution seen in The Seventh Continent).

In weaving what he terms 'incomplete tales', Haneke chooses to film each scene more or less continuously, with minimal cutting, subjecting the audience to sustained takes that have a sometimes hypnotic power. The second sequence, for example, is an extraordinary virtuoso take along a busy street, but in the contrast to the showmanship of a De Palma or even a Scorsese, the effect here is to highlight the unity of life on the street rather than to draw attention to itself. As ever, Haneke shows great skill in getting underneath the viewer's skin, confronting us with ordinary, unspoken discomforts that have tremendous power when given form on the screen, and he's blessed with an outstanding cast, not least Juliette Binoche in one of her strongest performances.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States