Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Code Unknown (2000)

More homework. No real spoilers here as there isn't really a plot. Still, you might want to watch the movie first.

One cannot help but notice the cinematic similarities between Michael Haneke’s Code inconnu: RĂ©cit incomplet de divers voyages (Code Unknown, 2000) and his 71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls (71 Fragments, 1994). Both of the films lack a continuous Hollywood-style plot and are presented in short, seemingly disconnected episodes each separated by a cut to black. In 71 Fragments, the unrelated characters converge in an event at the end of the film, while in Code Unknown, the characters meet in a conflict at the beginning. This conflict happens when Jean (Alexandre Hamidi) throws a piece of garbage in the lap of a beggar, Maria (Luminta Gheorghiu). Amadou (Ona Lu Yenke) confronts Jean and the two begin to scuffle, only to be separated by the police.

In watching the film, it becomes clear that main characters come from very different cultural backgrounds. A few of the characters are immigrants: Amadou and his family immigrated from Africa, and Maria is a Romanian immigrant. Both presumably immigrated to France in hopes of finding a better life, but instead were faced with much difficulty. Amadou, who is black, encounters racism as seen in the opening conflict during which he is taken to police station, and Jean, a white Frenchman, is ignored by the authorities present. Instead of a more prosperous life, Maria found herself begging for money on the streets of Paris which ultimately leads to her deportation. The presence of cultural differences in the film demonstrates that in a multicultural city, Paris, unfortunately the only time different cultures interact is in conflict.

One of the most striking ways in which Haneke demonstrates this cultural disconnect is through editing. As stated above, Code Unknown is presented as a series of unrelated episodes. The fact that very few of the scenes (and characters) appear to be directly related shows just how little the myriad cultures present interact with one another. The editing (or, rather, lack of cuts within each episode) gives the film a cold and impersonal feel; the viewer feels just as disconnected from the characters as they are from each other due to the wide angles and long takes. The episodic nature of the film also shows the different effects of culture by allowing the viewer glimpses into the lives of the main characters. For example, Amadou is seen giving music lessons to deaf children. He has them play what is presumably traditional African percussion. This manifestation of his culture is very different from the racism seen at the beginning. However, most of the film seems to assert that immigrants are persecuted for their native culture and their non-assimilation.

With Code Unknown, Haneke confronts many issues that are often ignored. Racism may be disregarded in many situations, but the racism in Amadou’s experience with the police is impossible to ignore. He also presents Paris in an unconventional manner: as a clash of cultures rather than the stereotypical city of love. Culture and its effects are inescapable. In the case of Code Unknown, the effects begin and end in conflict.

This is another difficult film to process, much like 71 Fragments (1994). I don't feel that it is Haneke's best work, and it might not get the point across to the viewer. If you have to choose, watch 71 Fragments instead of Code Unknown.

Grade: C+

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