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TSPDT 2013: Code Unknown

Posted by martinteller on February 26, 2013

Jean (Alexandre Hamidi) is a teenager living on a farm with his father (Josef Bierbichler, I think… the credits are vague and I can’t remember if they ever said his name).  Unhappy with the tedium of life there, he goes to Paris looking for his older brother Georges (Thierry Neuvic), a photojournalist.  Without the security code to enter the building, he finds Georges’s girlfriend Anne (Juliette Binoche), an actress.  The two make hasty arrangements and go their separate ways.  Jean rudely chucks a piece of trash at a beggar woman named Maria (Luminita Gheorghiu).  Amadou (Ona Lu Yenke), a young man of Mali descent, witnesses this and accosts Jean, trying to make him apologize.  A scene is caused, Amadou gets arrested, Maria gets deported back to Romania.

This is the unifying event that ties the characters together, but the film is appropriately subtitled “Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys”.  Haneke begins the film with an enigmatic scene of a little girl miming something in a game of Charades with her deaf classmates.  The scene is left hanging unresolved — like most of the scenes, it ends abruptly — and we do not know what situation or emotion she was trying to convey.  And Haneke does not let us know what message he wants us to take away, one of his usual distancing gestures towards the audience which can be either intriguing or annoying, depending on the movie and the viewer.  In this case, it was a little bit of both.  The lack of any apparent coherent theme (it sucks to be an immigrant? racism? people are jerks?) makes the vignettes feel “incomplete” indeed.  Without a way of absorbing the film as a whole — at least not an immediately accessible way — I was forced to judge the individual scenes on their own.

The good news is that most of them are engaging as little microcosms.  Haneke’s righteous finger-wagging may be irritating to some, but there’s relatively little of it here, mostly just observations of human behavior.  Some of them are even nice observations (though admittedly most of them tend to be more on the cynical side).  The best of them typically involve Binoche, which may or may not be because she’s an actress I already had a fondness for.  But the scenes of her acting in the movie-within-the-movie (which I’d kind of like to see on its own, looks like a fun thriller) or having a supermarket argument with Neuvic were the most compelling.  Not only is Binoche a fantastic actress, but these moments were insightful and intriguing.  On the other hand, the scenes with Gheorghui in Romania were largely pointless and impenetrable to me.

Nothing in the film is that great or revelatory, and I rank it near the bottom of Haneke’s output.  But there are enough tidbits that the occasional annoyance at his willful obfuscation wasn’t a huge issue.  Rating: Good (72)


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