In the prelude to Code Unknown
, we watch as a class of deaf children play a very sophisticated game of charades. In response to a blank-faced girl shrinking slowly against a wall, the children guess: is it sadness, isolation, loneliness? We are not told the answer before director Michael Haneke cuts to the extraordinary opening sequence of the film. This nine-minute tracking shot along a busy Parisian boulevard, introduces the film's central characters: Amadou, a first generation French boy of West African descent; Maria, a Romanian illegal immigrant; and Anne (Juliette Binoche), a French actress, trying to make the leap from theatre to film. However, this is the only time we will see these characters together in one place before the film fractures into a series of vignettes, which slowly describe their lives, their cultural isolation and their search for small moments of beauty within this alienation.
Michael Haneke has been credited with reinvigorating and refreshing Austrian cinema with expectation-smashing early films such as Funny Games; if his newest pan-European films are anything to go by, he could be set to do the same for Euro cinema in general. Though Code Unknown is very different from Haneke's Benny's Video or Funny Games, like them this film also implicates and involves the viewer in the guilt of the on-screen characters. Its structure of intricately woven story strands is entirely provocative and stirring--politically, aesthetically and emotionally. It's exactly the type of film you want to watch again and again. As with the players of the opening game of charades, we won't be given any easy answers to questions about our collective guilt in the racism and alienation of an undeniably multicultural, multiethnic Europe. --Tricia Tuttle
On a busy Paris boulevard, a youth scornfully tosses a crumpled paper bag into the outstretched hands of a beggar woman. This is the bond which, for an instant, links several very different characters: Anne (Binoche), an actress; her war photographer boyfriend Georges; his farmer father and younger brother Jean, who, contrary to his father s wishes, has no interest in inheriting the farm; Amadou, a music teacher for deaf-mute children, and his family, who originate from Africa; and Maria, a Romanian immigrant. Written and directed by Michael Haneke, one of modern cinema s most distinctive and ambitious directors, Code Unknown is a complex film of powerful emotional force and a fascinating study of the subtle connections and barriers between people, social class, race and the difficulty of communicating in the modern world.