Tuesday, September 2, 2008

CODE UNKNOWN: INCOMPLETE TALES OF SEVERAL JOURNIES (Michael Haneke, 2000, France) Language is the secret code, a barrier to meaningful expression as superficial and mundane words are unable to adequately translate abstract thoughts. We are each cornered in our own world…alone and afraid. We strive to make contact with others, to become part of something larger than ourselves, but soon realize the limits to our human condition. In CODE UNKNOWN, words carry complex and multiple definitions and are burdensome; they differentiate cultures and ideologies and often create schism more that communion. Michael Haneke guides us through several incomplete journeys, a sputtering peregrination of human drama: an actress, her narcissistic boyfriend, his younger brother, an illegal immigrant, and a young black man, whose lives periodically interconnect. Haneke deconstructs our expectations and tells their stories in brief moments, often abruptly cutting to a black screen in the midst of a conversation. He also doesn’t allow insight or special privileged knowledge into their trauma or explanation…if any. We are left with momentary vignettes that cross cut, building suspense towards some final conclusion that frustratingly never materialize. He has captured pure moments of individual truth by breaking with standard narrative structure: this is genuine avant-garde cinema! Though character introductions are terse we understand their predicaments through cinematic composition: the banal dialogue conveys nothing while the visuals transmit empathy and compassion. CODE UNKNOWN can be understood without sound; like the deaf children that bookends the film, our other senses can become heightened and attuned to the world around us. It’s our choice if it’s for the better…or worse. (B+)
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