Friday, April 15, 2016

#780: Code Unknown

(Michael Haneke, 2000)

Code Unknown is accurately titled. The movie is constructed out of a loose collection of scenes that wouldn't be that disconnected if it wasn't for the slow fades that separate them. The way Haneke constructs each scene requires the viewer to get his or her bearings in the first moments, unsure of who we are with, how it is connected to what has come before, and when we are with Juliet Binoche, if the scene is part of the movie or the movie within the movie. Films that are about how the world is big and diverse and we are all disconnected from each other often hit you over the head with their message - think Babel or Crash - like a person you already agree with yelling at you too close. Code Unknown takes another route, leaving the viewer feeling as detached from the movie as the characters within it are from each other.

I'm not a huge Haneke fan, though I haven't seen many of his most famous films like The Piano Teacher or Amour. I feel like in a lot of ways Cache is the more accessible version of this film, and I liked that one much better, though again it didn't really stay with me. He has obvious technical skill, but I find his work very cold and, like Lars von Trier, he often seems more interested in how his films make the viewer feel than in what is happening on screen. That's certainly okay, but I think there's a higher bar for provocative cinema, and I don't think Code Unknown clears it, not the least because I wasn't particularly provoked by what I was seeing. I was bored.


  1. it isn't on Criterion but you should try his first cinema film (he did Austrian TV before) called 'The Seventh Continent' and then follow that with his second 'Benny's Video'... if at all possible don't read anything about them in advance - particularly no reviews and try as far as possible to imagine you are seeing these new in a cinema in the early 90s. Haneke is certainly about how media engages and "makes you feel" but in a way which is really quite quite shattering! Or you might still find him boring but you would have given him a fair go... this is cinema that America (even 'indie' Tiny Furniture America) will never make.

    1. I've actually seen Seventh Continent and was quite disturbed by it. Honestly, I'm still not sure how I feel about it, though I definitely appreciate it more than Funny Games (and this). Have you watched Dogtooth? I recently saw that and it reminded me of it a bit. I'll put Benny's Video on my to-watch list (along with the two I mentioned, which I do still want to see).

      Totally agree that he has a viewpoint that would be unique if impossible in American cinema - though I hope you don't think I hold up Tiny Furniture as a paragon of indie film! I may have written too much on that one but I'd give it a 3.5 or 4 at most...

      Either way, I'm fully aware of the fact that I didn't give this one a fair shake, but that's how this routine works. This was definitely one I would have preferred to just check off the list and not say anything about, because it just didn't hit me in any notable way. Thanks for the recommendations though, as I'm always willing to keep trying on directors with the kind of reputation that Haneke has.