…and the quest to see everything

Robin Wood – Code inconnu: Récit incomplet…

The Robin Wood retrospective offered a film by my second favourite director, Michael Haneke. He directs like a painter. In “Code inconnu,”  Anne’s (Juliette Binoche) boyfriend’s teenage brother Jean throws food wrapping at a beggar named Maria (Luminata Gheorgiu), angering Amadou, a young bystander.

Wood said of the first eight minutes of the film as “among the most astonishing instances of virtuosity in the entire history of mise-en-scène.” It’s not showy, and subtlety must be part of the criteria for a great long take. Haneke makes the conversations as the star instead of his own camerawork, and the events in the background are unmistakably authentic. The scene shows the experience of new Paris like any other city, with unrelated events and shops strung together in a street. When something happens like a confrontation between two teenagers, it feels more like a steady fire than an explosion.

This film uses Binoche in her best capabilities, and it’s a sadness as a latent actress lover that I haven’t had a chance to watch all of her films, especially the ones in French. That said, I’m ambivalent about Anne. She’s an inconsistent actress – she delivers one of the intentionally worst readings of Shakespeare on film – she’s passionate about the people in her life, and she’s probably racist. I do have a few problems with her character. Why does she have the worst wardrobe in Paris? Why would she be grumpy to a boyfriend that hot? Why wouldn’t she complain about her neighbours?

The same questions arise with the other characters. Why is Jean unhappy about both the city and the country? Why does Maria go back to Paris after being deported, as the film shows how happy she is in Romania? Why is Amadou so nice all of a sudden? And does Anne’s boyfriend Georges realize how creepy it is to take people’s pictures on the subway?

The man who introduced the film also said that the film encapsulates the capitalist lifestyle that continuously exploits. Another way of looking at the film is that terrible things happen to four people and more terrible things happen to them while they go on their separate ways. It doesn’t stop. It’s an onslaught on anomie and cruelty coming from strangers, yet they’re not more angry as they should.

This film’s one of the greatest movie about cities, perfectly capturing the meanness and cadence of urban streets. It shows multiculturalism as tense yet not in an aggressive way. It lets people meet and meet again in different places and circumstances, and one seeing another like a different person than before. And it shows people being alone in a densely populated area. This is also surprisingly one of Haneke’s most accessible films, neither sprawl-y nor thesis-y like his other, more acclaimed films. Also, if you’re a fan on colour blind casting or acting, this movie might be for you. The names Luminata Gheorgiu and Maurice Benichou –  the latter merely has a bit part, but I care not – are now in my mind. I hope so will be yours when you watch this.

And I will never forget that ending.

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