by Ramona Waldman
ENG 282 Response
Haneke’s fragmented masterpiece calls attention to the notion of communication, or, more precisely, the lack of it. Each scene seems to be a story in itself, apparently unrelated to the rest of the film. The movie begins with deaf-mute kids, playing charades. Soon enough the whole film becomes a game of charade where Haneke chops and switches between the different lives of his characters, joining each scene after it’s started and cutting away before it’s finished.
Things take place in real time, like the long opening scene along the boulevard that draws together all the characters in “one big picture”. Anne Laurent (Juliette Binoche) is an actress working in Paris, and she walks briefly with her boyfriend's younger brother Jean. After they separate, Jean tosses waste paper into the lap of Maria, a homeless-beggar woman sitting on the side of the road (whom we later learn is a Romanian illegal immigrant). We also meet Amadou, from an African immigrant family, who witnesses this and ends up as “a victim” after confronting Jean and asking him to apologize to the woman beggar. The two fight, Anne intervenes to stop the fight, and eventually Amadou and Maria are both taken to a police station for questioning. Amadou is released presumably shortly after, though we later find out that he was held, beaten and shamed. As if to balance this scene (blacks are victims and white people are victimizers), by the end of the movie we see an adolescent arab, without any reason, taunting Anne about her race, class and gender in an extremely powerful and nerve-wracking scene.
Maria is deported to her native Romania where she “reconnects” with her family there. After a while she returns to Paris.
The film’s technique is sometimes deceptive, as the spectator watches “a real scene” is only to discover it’s a film within this film. Code Unknown manages to put the audience out of their comfort zone, forcing viewers to work at filling in missing links. Haneke highlights the amalgamation of multiple cultures and miscommunication. The film is also a morality play, which investigates if justice is still honorable and relevant in today's world. One point of the film seems to be that modern society is heartless, that it is infected with preconceived ideas and intolerance which threaten to destroy us unless addressed on individual and political levels.
After watching this movie I felt like we’re all trapped behind ethnicity, class, wealth/poverty, bigotry, and position, we are searching out some common thread of courtesy, thinking hard before we speak, sometimes becoming paralyzed by fear, loneliness and isolation.
It is definitely worth decoding this film!