With Code Unknown, Haneke retreats back to familair ground covered in his earlier films. Code Unknown is a sequel to 71 Fragments… in my mind since it adheres to the exact same editing style and story structure, just with a bigger budget and the aid of a star (Juliette Binoche) in one of the lead roles. The themes of 71 Fragments… are taken to the extreme with Code Unknown, only less of an emphasis on character and more narrative experimentation, including multple scenes that are downright confusing in terms of temporality.
What irks me most about Code Unknown is Haneke’s obsession with contrivance. 71 Fragments… felt plausable, as happentstance and chance playing with these characters in a human and complex way. In Code Unknown, most every action/reaction comes across as bland, fake, and inhuman. The “one moment” that sets off the entire film is the most real and character driven, and we learn more about each person there than in the rest of the film combined.
Haneke loves to move the camera in respect to the actors motions and with Code Unknown he displays his strongest sense of blocking and movement. Haneke even touches upon the upper middle class discomfort and fear that will dominate his last two films, Time of the Wolf, and Cache. But this strong formal structure depletes any semblance of coheranace within the thin story and no matter what the intention of this style, whether it be to show disconnections and/or generalizations of point of view, it’s an exhausting process to watch. One scene in particular stands out as a percurser to the genius Haneke is capable of and shows in later films.
As Binoche sits on the subway, she is hounded by an Arab teenager, the adolescent wondering why such a high class lady would be slumming it with him on public transportation. Binoche rests first in the background and out of view, then attempts to move and does so into the foreground. The teen follows her, continues his badgering, finally unleashing his anger in the one truely terrorfying moment. The teen lashes out at a hegemonic image he sees but doesn’t fully understand, Binoche, unknowingly representing a system that purposefully fragments and divides it’s people, but completely undeserving from a personal level for such abuse. Finally, after two hours of preaching, Haneke hits his mark concerning the fear and doubt he sees in his characters, but it’s only a glimmer of substance in a film obsessed with incoherant ideas and diatribes.