Having seen Haneke’s 71 Fragments a couple of months ago I was intrigued to see what Code Unknown was like. Stylistically they’re very similar, with the fragmentary, clinical viewpoints and abrupt edits, but after watching the latter today I’d say I definitely prefer 71 Fragments. Possibly because it has that point of convergence you know you’re heading towards, tying up a lot of the apparent randomness. Code Unknown, though it’s just as compelling much of the time, doesn’t have that with a lot of loose ends which I suppose might be an attraction for some people.
I like both films a lot, though I consider 71 Fragments a great film. Some wonderful moments in Code however, especially involving Juliette Binoche. That scene on the train towards the end where she’s harassed by that young punk who eventually, and shockingly assaults her in a way you don’t expect, is a provocative highlight.
I’m looking forward to watching both films again actually, I’m sure they become more riveting once you’ve established certain insights into some scenes and assessed them as part of the bigger picture.
I’ve seen most of Haneke’s films now, all except for The White Ribbon and his first two. I’ve loved and admired everything else in between except possibly Time of the Wolf which I felt becomes a bit bogged down and monotonous after a great opening half hour.
Interesting. I liked Time of the Wolf, which Haneke has said is his most hopeful film — ironically enough. I think that’s the reason why more things don’t happen in it, it’s more about how these characters learn to cope and stabilize. I think Code Unknown is a masterpiece, mainly because it doesn’t converge artificially on a single ending. It begins and ends in seemingly random chaos, and although nothing in the film is truly random (of course), it gives a strong impression of being indifferent to narrative. Not only because he sometimes cuts scenes in the middle, and cuts from one thing to something completely different, but because of those Godardian moments with Binoche where she questions the difference between real and acted emotions. Some of my favorite scenes: the audition for the slasher movie, the beautiful scenes on the farm, the part where the photo journalist rides the subway taking candid pictures of exhausted riders with a hidden camera, the scene in the supermarket, the subplot about the neighbor girl who dies under mysterious circumstances, and the scene you mentioned where Binoche is the victim of “reverse racism.”
Excellent points Justin, thankyou for your great reply. I understand what you’re saying about Code Unknown, and I think I may end up liking it more for the reasons you mentioned. Those were all great moments with Binoche especially the terrifying scene where she’s supposedly being held captive in the room. A great actress. I believed every second of that scene. The photographer’s still photos, both on the train and from the war-torn environment, were wonderful montages on their own too.
Time of the Wolf is actually probably my favorite of Haneke’s films, though I admire Code Unknown a great deal for the reasons Justin mentions.
Good points by Justin. Code Unknown is a film that should be seen more than once. Each time I see it, I appreciate how each scene is pregnant with meaning and how each scene is so precisely made: the sights, sounds, framing and acting are all perfect. Haneke is a master craftsman indeed.
One of my favorite scenes (in recent cinema!) is the ironing scene. Nothing appears to be happening but it is the key to understanding (what I think is) the theme of the film.
Also, while 71 fragments is similar to Code Inconnu in style, does Benny’s Video provide a more accessible introduction to understanding the later films of Haneke?
Yes, that ironing scene is where Binoche first suspects that the neighbor girl is being physically abused, but she doesn’t know what to do about and remains confused and unsure of herself, even at the subsequent funeral of the little girl, where she ends up walking away from the grave side by side with the mother, if I remember correctly. A very subtle statement about how strange and unreadable reality can be, and how most of the time people don’t behave in an unnaturally “heroic” way — we tend to do what comes naturally, which is to keep things inside, to avoid, to deny.
In that scene, Binoche hears noises from the neighbor’s apartment. She mutes the TV so that she could hear it better but Instead of actively engaging in something where she could possibly make a difference (by getting involved in what is happening in the neighbor’s apartment since it is implied that the child probably died due to abuse/neglect), though she is troubled, she merely un-mutes the TV’s sound after a few minutes. In order to engage, she has to come out of her walled space and has to communicate with her neighbors but she decides to add the wall of sound between them. (Ironically, iirc, Binoche was watching something about a disaster or war…)
Haneke makes the scene more interesting by placing the camera in a position that is almost at the position of the TV. Thus, while she passively absorbs the TV, we are passively absorbing her/the film.
So we have various media of communication (including films) that should supposedly help us become more informed. But are we just passively absorbing information or does it make us communicate better and become more engaged with the world? (Does art/media help us really break down the walls since most of us live a somewhat closeted life in the cities?)
I think I preferred 71 Fragments for the same reasons as David mentions, though CU was still very interesting. For me, I think a key difference as well between the films is that I understood 71 to be depicting the ordinary lives of the killer/victims in the lead-up to the climax. To show fragments of their lives, the mundane day-to-day activities, and show them as people. Whereas in CU, as mentioned, virtually every scene both advances the ‘journey’ of one of the central characters but also shows miscommunication in modern life.