Code Unknown

Dir: Michael Haneke, 2000. Starring: Juliette Binoche, Thierry Neuvic, Alexandre Hamidi. French & others. Foreign.
Code Unknown

Few directors choose to take risks within cinema, and when they do, they reveal ideas in the most intriguing and significant ways. Michael Haneke, in his film Code Unknown, definitely gives his viewers something to take home, long after they’ve watched it. Like a string of Venn-diagrams, the film is a series of segments loosely tied by the intersection of characters in Paris, France, and the subtext goes far beyond just that. The scenes allude to the missed communication within a society blinded by tension caused by differences in race, age, class, and backgrounds in a disheveled European nation. Here is the rare portrayal of Paris as an intellectual discourse, and while less violent compared to Funny Games or Caché, the film is still pointedly bold, high-minded, and socially aware.

What does “code unknown” really mean? We find out a glimpse of this answer in the beginning scene, set in a school of deaf children. A girl is acting out a scene in front of her classmates. They guess what she is attempting to convey:  “Alone?” “Hiding in place?” She shakes her head at each conjecture. The simplicity combined with mystery of this scene is an appropriate overture for the rest of the film.

The next scene is a stunning long tracking shot following characters in a busy Parisian street that has less to do with camerawork than a study of social context. The nine-minute scene brings the main characters together in one space. This formal cinematic approach stretches tall and wide to tell us the depths of injustice. We follow a boy (Alexandre Hamidi), who hands garbage to a homeless woman, and a black man of Malian descent confronts him. The police arrive, and then the boy’s brother’s girlfriend (Juliette Binoche) comes to help him. The homeless woman is deported, and the black man is arrested. The rest of the film follows these characters from the point of their brief yet affected encounter, and by the end, the scenes act as strokes the fill the painting that we, as an audience, can observe and question. There is no final answer, and as unsettling as inconclusive endings can be, I am given the satisfaction of knowing that this is life, this is society, this is the code that exists, and it will remain unknown.

Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
May 13, 2009 6:46pm
Steve Earle and the Dukes
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