A French actress on the verge of a film career shares a Paris apartment with her war-photographer boyfriend, who’s always away on assignment so their relationship suffers. A Romanian beggar is deported after a street scuffle, yet financial imperatives later force her to make an illegal and humiliating return journey. A music therapist for deaf children lands in trouble with the French police, though his only crime seems to be that he’s black. There are myriad different threads in this new film from the director of Funny Games, but as Michael Haneke’s title suggests (and his sub-title ‘Incomplete Account of Several Journeys’ underlines), making coherent sense of them is as difficult as getting a handle on the dislocated modern lives so many of us lead. Here’s a world we recognise, with all its individual frustrations and apparently endemic injustices: can film impose a sense of order, or is all such celluloid illusion nothing more than deception?
In his first French production, the Austrian director is helped immeasurably by a thoroughly convincing cast, topped by the finest performance of Juliet Binoche’s career. Just watch her enduring a hellish metro trip in the company of a young hooligan, and her contribution seems to go beyond mere acting. Elsewhere, however, Code Unknown’s behind-the-scenes glimpses into the film-making process remind us that even the most convincing sequences, or those moments which touch our conscience, are merely the outcome of narrative manipulation. Is genuine empathy with the sufferings which surround us an aesthetic by-product or a moral choice? Haneke’s film offers no facile answers, for the only certainty here is that you’re watching one of the most relevant, compelling and thought-provoking films of the year.
Dolby digital stereo.