In his book “Conjure Wife”, Fritz Leiber describes a curiosity called the Prince Rupert drop. It is formed by dropping a dollop of molten glass into cold water. When the glass cools, it looks like a tadpole with a long tail. The bulbous end is under such tension, from the hot gas trapped inside, it can repel a blow from a hammer. But the tiniest flick of the fingernail to the tail will cause the whole object to explode into fine powder. Leiber wrote that, no matter how secure a man’s life may seem, if someone on the outside observed it carefully enough, and learned exactly where to flick, that life would explode.
In the film Caché , which, loosely translated, means “hidden,” the Laurents seem a stable family. Georges (Daniel Auteuil), is the successful producer/host of an interview show about writers on French Public Television. He and his wife, Anne (Juliette Binoche) sit down to a lovely meal at their glass dining room table, surrounded by built-in shelves containing thousands of books.
But the air is charged with tension. As in David Lynch’s Lost Highway , the couple has found a videotape on their doorstep. Someone has shot the exterior of their house for two hours using a camera hidden somewhere across the street. Georges is seen on the tape, walking right past the camera. He never saw a thing.
Soon, more tapes arrive, now wrapped in paper. On the paper are child-like drawings, first of a face with a bloody mouth, then a chicken, with blood issuing from a neck wound. A postcard of the drawing is delivered to Georges at work, and to his son, Pierrot (Lester Makadonsky), at school.
Observer and observed are never separate; by observing something, it is changed, which is why voyeurism is so aggressive. The tapes become increasingly menacing; the family, increasingly full of dread. Someone seems to know a secret from Georges’ past; and though Georges begins to suspect who is sending the tapes, he is evasive with Anne. Because he does not trust his wife, or maybe even himself, with the truth, and because Anne may also have secrets, hairline cracks in their marriage become fissures.
We observe the Laurents as if by a hidden camera. The film is composed of very long takes; sometimes, the camera glides on a horizontal dolly, as if stalking. Sometimes, when we think we are watching the action in real time, horizontal rewinding bands slash like razors across the frame; we were actually watching one of the videotapes. Sometimes, without knowing it, we are watching a fragment of a dream, or of a horrible memory, buried deep like a splinter in the mind.
Caché is a demanding film. If you can accept its minimalism, it plays like the great Nicholas Roeg film Don’t Look Now , keeping us forever on edge as we scan the frame for dangers. A sudden noise can make us jump out of our skin. Even a funny story about a dog has threatening undertones; images that should be coincidental feel supernaturally connected, harbingers of encroaching blood and death. The film’s last shot leaves us not with answers, but with even more disturbing implications.
Caché is playing, in French with English subtitles, at the Landmark Theaters in Indianapolis. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.