Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Caché - A Hidden Gem

Those who know me are well aware that I'm a complete movie buff. I simply love the experience of watching a film, no matter how good or bad it is. Of course watching a good film is satisfying, but I 'enjoy' watching bad films as well!

My problem is that when I go to watch a Hindi or an English movie, I always go in with an expectation. By the time I get to see the film, I would already have read or heard enough about it or would have some preset notions about the cast and crew, etc. etc. This leads to a situation where my opinion about the movie is influenced by my expectations. In many cases this might happen completely at a sub-conscious level, but it does happen. Very rarely does one get a chance to watch a film one has never heard of - rather a film that hasn't registered in one's memory more than a casual reference in a list of films having won a major award.

I got this chance when I was flying to London last month. The in-flight entertainment was playing a French film on one of the channels. It was only in the last leg of my flight that I tuned in to that channel. Thank God I did.
The film in question is called Caché (Hidden). Never before have I been so enthralled by a film where the characters live in a milieu I can't relate to and speak a language I don't understand. I was so impressed by what I saw, that I bought the film's DVD at the very first opportunity (two days later from Heathrow).

Caché is an intelligent thriller. True to its title, it hides more than it reveals. At one level it's about a family that's terrorised by a faceless person, who keeps sending them hours of video footage of their home - an indication that they are under surveillance. Expectedly, this creates havoc in the lives of the family. As the film unfolds, you realize that this is much more complex than it sounds.

Caché is intricately layered, with each layer revealing itself just at the appropriate moment and with just the right amount of emphasis. As the minutes pass by you realize that there's a lot that is hidden - the most obvious thing being the 'hidden' camera. Within the first 10 minutes, you get a feeling that all's not well between the couple - what exactly, you don't know: it's 'hidden'. You could dismiss that as an obvious result of the discovery that they're being watched, but it isn't really that....the sub-text remains 'hidden', yet makes its point. Then, the husband's hidden past, and the consequent guilt, is carefully and subtly revealed - the director is in no hurry, and that actually makes us empathize with the characters on the screen.

The film also has strong political undertones - strong in terms of implication, rather than depiction (Paris massacre of 1961). At the most obvious level, it's about a man's guilt about a seemingly innocuous act as a kid. The director, however, uses that as a metaphor for a nation's guilt about ill-treating its immigrants, without explicitly stating it anywhere. Everything here is implied - or in other words, 'hidden'. That's where the brilliance of the film lies - in subtlety.

I was completely blown away by the final scene. OK...let me admit it. When I first saw it on the flight, I did not realize how important this final scene was. I thought that the director wanted to end the film just the way with he had started i.e. with a prolonged, distant video shot. At first look it seems that there's nothing going on in the scene except for a crowd of people just moving haphazardly across the screen. It was after a few days when I watched the film again on DVD that I realized what a masterstroke the final scene was. Careful viewing of this scene opens up completely new possibilities for the resolution of the film. Again, the director leaves it 'hidden', completely open to many different interpretations. (I could explain this scene, but let it be 'hidden'. Watch the film to understand what I mean!)

The story doesn't lead to a resolution (which one surely expects in a thriller), but it is the lack of resolution, and the countless possibilities it consequently opens up, that makes Caché one of my most satisfying movie experiences in recent memory.