Intention Unknown

5 Nov 2013: Code Unknown (DVD, 2000, Michael Haneke)

Either intriguingly mysterious or banally unmysterious, this film probably depends more than most on where you are to fill in its gaps (visualized via black-cushioned cuts between the disparate events of each sequence) and elisions. Its immigrant characters are mostly noble but marginalized and its native whites mostly cold and isolated, which may reflect reality well enough but by now in cinematic history feels a little too perfunctory in milking audience (undoubtedly to be dominated by whites) guilt without really fleshing out and complexifying anyone onscreen. In a way these people are as much ciphers as the more “commercial” thriller characters of Christopher Nolan (e.g. Inception), albeit put together in a more interesting framework that leaves a lot more interpretation up to the viewer. Haneke plays not just with expectations of narrative continuity but also those of focus and reality, whether by entering unannounced into a film-within-a-film in which one of the characters is acting or displaying a slideshow of photographs taken by her boyfriend. Because of all of its mis- and redirections of subject and flow the story generates (like the later Margaret) a more mural-like canvas of meaning whereby each separate element (character or plot-line) becomes a holographic lens for the remainder: it could be about film and photography, it could be about poor parenting, it could be about immigration and by extension global capitalism, etc., because it does move “about” all of these things without making itself an “issue” film. It left me cold because it never convinced me fully that great intent was motivating its formal experimentations, but given a larger screen and a different mood the temperature of response seems liable to vary – and perhaps lacking great intent is part of the textual message, open as it is.

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