Wednesday, August 09, 2006

2005 in review: #4

4. Caché (Michael Haneke)

B-side: Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho)

The thriller genre is chock full of movies, some good, many more bad. The difference between good thrillers and bad ones lies more than anything in the level of suspense the film generates. Thankfully, 2005 was a good year for the genre (see also #5), with numerous thrillers made by filmmakers who actually took the time and effort to create suspense instead of going for cheap shocks. And the year’s best thriller, bar none, was CACHÉ.

In the film, Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche play a proper bourgeois couple (he even hosts a weekly televised panel discussion on books). When someone begins sending him mysterious videotapes- first of his house, then of slightly more sinister things- long-suppressed secrets from his past begin to eat away at him. Morbid curiosity, and a lack of police interest, lead him to conduct his own investigation of his own, but it quickly becomes apparent that Haneke has something in mind other than a clean resolution to the case. Haneke’s style is often described as cold and clinical, but the primary reason why CACHÉ is so nerve-racking is the emotions that the film traffics in, the emotions we hide from the world- in Auteuil’s case, shame, guilt, a quick temper, and even racism (a 1962 massacre of Muslims in Paris is a plot point as well). In addition, the distanced style of the videos is eerily similar to Haneke’s own, to the point where the two become virtually indistinguishable by the end of the film.

MEMORIES OF MURDER is not only a thriller, but also a police procedural, a genre equally prone to formula. But Bong, taking his cue from an unsolved real-life serial-killing case, is as unconcerned with figuring out whodunit as Haneke. Instead, he uses the mystery as a stepping-stone to explore other issues, particularly police brutality (the cops aren’t above using torture and random raids as a means of getting information) and the general ineffectually of Korean law enforcement (from the beginning the detectives are mostly grabbing at straws and hoping to get lucky). Haneke is one of the world’s great filmmakers already, and Bong’s new film THE HOST got some of the best reviews at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Could we be witnessing the rise of a new suspense master?

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