Reviewed on 2007 May 17
What a frustrating movie. It could have been a real nail-biter, and parts were tense… but overall it just fizzled.
The Auteil family seems like a typical well-off, somewhat dysfunctional family. Daniel (Georges Laurent) is a book geek with his own TV show where he interviews authors, his pretty wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) is one of those women who can whomp out an elegant dinner, pick the perfect wine, and still have a clever conversation with her guests, and their son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky) is a star swimmer, when he can take time from sulking and pouting. They could be Any Family, albeit wealthier than many. So who is leaving them creepy videos — lengthy things usually showing nothing but a camera trained on their home for a disturbing length of time — and why? Their marriage isn’t a blissful one to begin with, but couple the unwanted gifts with other familial issues and Georges’s guilt over a long-past event, and he starts to crack.
This sounds like it should be really riveting, and when I heard about it, I chafed until the DVDs finally showed up at my local video chain. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. The previews lead one to believe it’s a horror movie, but after a few moments I realized it was a mystery, and I settled in for some grade A suspense. When there was no real suspense, I shrugged and waited for a riveting psychological drama with some character development. (Hey, it’s all good.) I feel cheated to report I didn’t get that either. Michael Haneke wrote and directed this, and I know what he was going for, but one problem is the characters weren’t likable enough to drive this. It’s not always important to like characters, and sometimes is is more fun if they’re a bunch of rotters, but here I think if we had liked them more we would have been better pulled in and it would have been more effective. As it was I only felt empathy for one person. The other issue is the ending — I mean literally, the way the ending is shot. It’s hard to make out exactly what is happening, and while I don’t need — or want — things spelled out for me, if you can’t see what’s going on, that’s a big problem.
I noticed this drew an unusual amount of venom from snottier fans, telling people if they disliked it they should stick with stuff where things blow up real good. You know what? I have a whole rack of stuff where things blow up — Aliens, the Die Hard trilogy, Falling Down — on the same shelves as Diabolique, Les Yeux sans Visage, and Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet boxed set. Either it works or it doesn’t, and I just didn’t think it worked.
One chocolate morsel. I have to admit the acting was good.