Code Unknown (2000)

This is Haneke in peak form—made up of more than forty vignettes shot in long takes that combine to give us a fragmentary sense of what it feels like to live in a multi-racial yet racist, technological yet incommunicable post-2000s world.    

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Review #2,172

Dir. Michael Haneke
2000 | France | Drama | 117 mins | 1.85:1 | French, Romanian & other languages
PG (passed clean) for some sexual references

Cast: Juliette Binoche, Thierry Neuvic, Josef Bierbichler
Plot: On a busy Paris boulevard, a youth scornfully tosses a crumpled paper bag into the outstretched hands of a beggar woman. This is the bond which, for an instant, links several very different characters: an actress, a war photographer, a farmer, a music teacher, and an immigrant.
Awards: Won Prize of the Ecumenical Jury & Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: MK2

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Society, Communication, Racism, Immigrants
Narrative Style: Complex – Vignettes
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

His first film produced in France, Code Unknown is Michael Haneke in peak form. 

Made up of more than forty vignettes shot in methodical long takes that cut to black just when things start to get interesting, the film is an evocative depiction of a fragmented post-2000s world, where it is multi-racial yet racist, technological yet incommunicable. 

People speak, scream, chatter, insult, yet few words are meaningfully communicated, and most things fall on deaf ears.  Perhaps this is why Haneke had chosen to bookend his film with shots of a child communicating through sign language and action. 

Perhaps this is also why he employed loud, sustained rhythmic drumming in both diegetic and non-diegetic ways in a strategic part of the film—an extraordinary, sensorial montage sequence right up there as one of the great Haneke moments. 

“Tell me. Is there a single person you have made happy?”

Juliette Binoche headlines a cast of diverse ethnicities in a layered meta-cinematic performance, playing an actress whose professional and personal lives converge.  Her character is one of many in the film, with the lives of immigrants and racial minorities a key theme. 

Haneke builds their stories around a street fracas that sparks the narrative, but his rigourous filmmaking style doesn’t bow down to the viewer, asking us to take part actively in constructing the interlinking lives of these characters, and the scenarios they are ‘put through’ for us (or for some director). 

The cinema of Haneke can be challenging to process, but Code Unknown is less confrontative by his standards, though it is no less potent than any other film he had done up till this point.  It is also a great place to start for those unfamiliar with his style and preoccupations.

Grade: A+


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