Code Unknown

France/Germany/Romania 2000, 117 mins
Director: Michael Haneke

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away some of the plot.

A youth tosses a wrapper into the lap of a Romanian woman begging in Paris… Haneke’s exploration of the various consequences of this thoughtless act leads into the lives of a range of characters, mostly unconnected save that their different experiences touch on the lies, inequalities, injustices and contradictions of contemporary Western Europe. Fragmented, philosophically rigorous, it is nevertheless lucid, dramatically compelling and deeply affecting.

‘Morality,’ Cahiers du cinéma critic Luc Moullet famously said in 1959, ‘is a question of tracking shots.’ Michael Haneke’s first – predominantly – French-language film begins with an exquisitely realised nine-minute tracking shot initially following Juliette Binoche’s Anne as she walks along the street. Were this not a Haneke film, it would be tempting to view these opening moments as a homage to the nouvelle vague filmmakers’ fondness for long-take sequences that juxtapose a beautiful actress with a Parisian boulevard caught in real time. But as in Haneke’s earlier 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance and The Seventh Continent, both of which introduce the fragmented, episodic narrative structure employed in Code Unknown, Haneke is concerned here with philosophical first principles rather than referentiality.

As this sequence-shot bears witness to the sudden street incident that links the disparate experiences of Maria (a Romanian immigrant), Amadou (the son of West African refugees), Anne, and Jean (the brother of Anne’s boyfriend Georges), the film offers the first of a number of scenes which use the multicultural public spaces of Paris, not for their fashionability (Haneke points out he could as easily have filmed his script in London) but as a laboratory for testing the relationship between representation and reality. The results confirm Haneke’s reputation as one of cinema’s most accomplished moralists.

Both Benny’s Video and Funny Games tended to didacticism and indulged Haneke’s perverse modernist desire to punish us for our collusion with the commodified – and thus, for Haneke at least, mendacious – narrative certainties of dominant cinema. Code Unknown, on the other hand, furthers Haneke’s project of countering what he sees as the degradation of our sense of the real by modulating with true virtuosity between various realisms. The opening sequence is by turns manipulative – stoking our indignation at the policemen’s casually insensitive and implicitly racist handling of the confrontation between Jean and Amadou – and naturalistic, artfully thwarting our desire to reach easy judgement. In a later sequence in the Métro, a static camera observes in neutral long shot – again with an unbroken take – as Anne is tormented by an aggressive Arab youth who, incensed by her lack of reaction to his unprovoked taunts, spits in her face. In between the film presents us with fragments – interspersed with Brechtian fades and sudden Godardian sound edits – which turn on the difficulty of relating in a moral fashion to others in a world in which any communication seems fraught with the dangers of victimisation. Anne, while ironing, turns down the television when she hears screams coming from another apartment and this too is left unexplained and unresolved.

Alongside this quotidian malaise are the characters’ attempts to achieve contact through dissimulation, such as when Anne challenges her elderly neighbour, who may or may not have written a letter purporting to be from an abused child in the adjoining apartment, or when Anne, during an argument with Georges, claims – we don’t know whether it’s true or not – to have aborted his child when he was in Kosovo. Georges’ own subterfuge, his surreptitious photographing of people on the Métro – a form of surveillance that leads to a marvellous montage of portraits (the work of war photographer Luc Delahaye) – further complicates the film’s insistent thematic build up around responsibility to others and the unbridgeable glacial distance between people.

As Haneke has suggested in interviews, all of this would merely be a reiteration of various modernist clichés about the impossibility of communication were the film not to comprise one superb sequence after another. Rather than dryly demonstrating a thesis, each scene conveys a deeply affecting sense of authenticity and immediacy. The performance of the deglamorised – but still luminescent – Juliette Binoche, whose approach to Haneke initiated the film, contributes immeasurably to the success of Code Unknown. A sequence from the film she is shooting (she plays an actress), in which she is interrogated – one of two startling scenes that reveal Haneke’s grasp of the strength of our desire to be manipulated (the other – at first deliberately confusing levels of reality – involves a toddler crawling on the edge of a tall building) – is a masterclass in close-up acting.

That amid all these heavy-duty moral/aesthetic preoccupations Haneke manages to offer powerfully understated images of the lot of economic migrants – Maria’s silent deportation and return to Paris – adds to the sense of Code Unknown as a major achievement. Orchestrating his long takes, his superb use of off-screen space and chilly long shots, Haneke sets about if not reinventing, then reinvigorating a non-naive realism for the 21st century. In the process, he gives us the most intellectually stimulating and emotionally provocative piece of European cinema of recent times.
Richard Falcon, Sight and Sound, May 2001

Director: Michael Haneke
©: Bavaria-Film, Filmex Romania, France 2 Cinéma, Arte France Cinéma, MK2 Productions, Films Alain Sarde
In co-production with: Bavaria-Film, Filmex Romania, France 2 Cinéma, Arte France Cinéma, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, Romanian Ministry of Culture
Presented by: MK2 Productions, Films Alain Sarde
With the participation of: Canal+
Supported by: Eurimages Conseil de l’Europe, Procirep
Executive Producer: Yvon Crenn
Producers: Marin Karmitz, Alain Sarde
Bavaria Film GmbH Co-producer: Thilo Kleine, Michael Weber
ZDF Co-producer: Christoph Holch
Filmex Romania Co-producer: Titi Popescu
Romanian Unit Production Manager: Doïna Dragnea
Senegal Unit Production: Moussa Touré
Unit Production Manager: Bruno Bernard
Romanian Unit Production Manager: Razvan Constantinescu
Senegal Unit Production Manager: Mandiaye Touré
Unit Manager: Manuel Recolin
Romanian Unit Managers: Crina Crisan, Doïna Torcatoru
Senegal Unit Manager: Maguette Fonkou M’Baye
Location Manager: Thomas Pitre
Assistant Director: Alain Olivieri
2nd Assistant Director: Joseph Rapp
Romanian Unit 1st Assistant Directors: Melia Cerchez, Virgil Nicolaescu
Script Supervisor: Chloe Perlemutter
Casting: Kris Portier de Bellair
Romanian Unit Casting: Melia Cerchez, Loredana Calina Soradi
Screenplay: Michael Haneke
Director of Photography: Jürgen Jürges
1st Assistant Operator: Irina Lubtchansky
2nd Assistant Operator: Marion Befve
Steadicam Operator: Carlos Cabecerán
War and Metro Stills Photographs: Luc Delahaye
Visual Effects: Duboi
Special Effects: Pierre Foury, Daniel Lenoir, Benoît Squizzato
Editors: Andreas Prochaska, Karin Hartusch
Romanian Unit Supervising Art Director: Calin Papura
Art Director: Manuel de Chauvigny
Romanian Unit Art Directors: Gabriel Bucur, Vlad Teodor, Viorel Banete, Aurel Draghici, Ion Vasilescu
Set Decorator: Laurence Vendroux
Costumes: Françoise Clavel
Romanian Unit Key Costumer: Gloria Papura
Costumer: Isabelle Leblanc
Romanian Unit Costumer: Adina Bucur
Wardrobe: Germaine Ribel
Key Make-up: Thi-Loan Nguyen
Romanian Unit Key Make-up: Ion Toma
Key Hairstylist: Isabelle Luzet
Titles: Ercidan
Music: Giba Gonçalves
Sound: Guillaume Sciama, Jean-Pierre LaForce
Studio Recordist: Éric Ferret
Sound Editor: Nadine Muse
Sound Effects: Laurent Lévy
Recordist ADR: Lionel Le Bras
Artistic Consultant: Hervé Icovic
Screenplay Translator: Bernard Mangiante
Romanian Translator: Ion Miron Damian
Bambara Translator: Johnson Traoré
Sing Language Translator: Béatrice Blondeau

Juliette Binoche (Anne)
Thierry Neuvic (Georges)
Sepp Bierbichler (the farmer)
Alexandre Hamidi (Jean)
Hélène Diarra (Aminate)
Ona Lu Yenke (Amadou)
Djibril Kouyate (Youssouf)
Luminita Gheorghiu (Maria)
Crenguta Hariton Stoica (Irina)
Bob Nicolescu (Dragos)
Bruno Todeschini (Pierre)
Paulus Manker (estate agent)
Didier Flamand (director)
Walide Afkir (young Arab)
Maurice Bénichou (old Arab)
Carlo Brandt (Henri)
Philippe Demarle (Paul)
Marc Duret (first policeman)
Arsinée Khanjian (Francine)
Florence Loiret (Amadou’s friend)
Nathalie Richard (Mathilde)
Andrée Tainsy (Madame Becker)
Elisabeth Marceul, Melissande Zeddam, Brandon Croteau, Sonia Chauvelin, Baptiste Gintzburger-Batle, Sarah Agogue Tasse, Alexandra Croteau, Jerome Ferreira, Melanie Lhote, José Marques (children)
Guessi Diakite-Goumdo (Salimata)
Jean-Yves Chatelais (shop owner)
Laurent Suire (second policeman)
Féodor Atkine (taxi customer)
Malick Bowens (witch doctor)
Ioan Marian Boris (Nicu)
Monica Popa (Nuta)
Ada Navrot (Florica)
Giba Gonçalves (percussion teacher)
Irina Lubtchansky (camera assistant)
Dominique Douret (David)
Tsuyu Bridwell (David’s friend)
Antoine Mathieu (restaurant waiter)
Constantin Barbulescu (Mihai Popa)
Domeke Meite (Demba)
Aïssa Maïga (Rokia)
Marany Fofana (Youssouf’s sister)
Costel Cascaval (man in the garden)
Sandu Mihai Gruia (group leader)
Daniel Dublet (uncle)
Boris Napes (father in cemetery)
Isabelle Pietra (mother in cemetery)
Cristina Ioanidis (Tatiana)
Ion Haiduc (man in squat)
Guillaume Morvilliers (Pierrot)
Pascal Loison (jolly man)

France/Germany/Romania 2000©
117 mins

Touch of Evil
Mon 27 Mar 20:45; Tue 4 Apr 14:30; Sun 9 Apr 18:30; Fri 28 Apr 20:45
Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället)
Tue 28 Mar 20:50; Wed 12 Apr 18:10 (+ intro by Geoff Andrew, Programmer-at-Large); Fri 14 Apr 20:50; Mon 24 Apr 14:30
To Sleep with Anger + Borom Sarret (The Wagoner)
Wed 29 Mar 18:10 (+ intro); Mon 10 Apr 12:45; Wed 12 Apr 18:00
Rio Bravo
Thu 30 Mar 20:20; Sun 9 Apr 12:50; Fri 21 Apr 20:20
Aguirre, Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes)
Fri 31 Mar 21:00; Thu 13 Apr 21:00; Thu 20 Apr 18:15
Last year in Marienbad (L’Année dernière à Marienbad)
Sat 1 Apr 12:50; Mon 3 Apr 20:30; Sat 8 Apr 18:20; Tue 18 Apr 20:45
La Grande Illusion
Sat 1 Apr 13:00; Wed 12 Apr 20:40; Sat 15 Apr 18:00; Fri 21 Apr 18:15
The Godfather Part II
Sat 1 Apr 16:00; Sat 22 Apr 18:40; Sun 30 Apr 16:30
Sun 2 Apr 17:50; Sat 8 Apr 20:00; Sat 29 Apr 16:30
The Passenger (Professione: reporter)
Wed 5 Apr 18:00 (+ intro by Geoff Andrew, Programmer-at-Large); Fri 7 Apr 20:20; Sun 16 Apr 18:15; Thu 27 Apr 18:10
Thu 6 Apr 20:45; Tue 11 Apr 14:30; Mon 17 Apr 20:50; Mon 24 Apr 20:50
The Portrait of a Lady
Fri 7 Apr 14:30; Wed 19 Apr 17:50 (+ intro); Sat 29 Apr 20:15
Code Unknown (Code inconnu)
Sun 9 Apr 15:45; Wed 26 Apr 18:15
The Lady Eve
Mon 10 Apr 18:15; Sat 15 Apr 12:40; Sun 30 Apr 14:15

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
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