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 [show more]
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Walking along a Paris street, following a meeting with his brother's girlfriend Anne (Juliette Binoche), Jean (Alexandre Hamidi) contemptuously throws an empty paper bag into the open hands of Romanian beggar Maria (Luminita Gheorghiu). Music teacher Amadou (Ona Lu Yenke) witnesses this, and when he demands that Jean apologise to Maria, the two get caught in a scuffle which results in both Amadou's arrest and Maria's deportation. Michael Haneke's film takes this brief moment and follows the paths of all its main characters over the subsequent weeks, tracing the subtle ways in which different lives intertwine in modern-day Europe.