Directed by Michael Haneke, starring Juliette Binoche, Thierry Neuvic, Ona Lu Yenke, Sepp Bierbichler, Arsinée Khanjian, Alexandre Hamidi
Unlike the production notes that supplement most films, those accompanying 'Code Unknown' include a statement from Director Michael Haneke. Rather than encapsulating the essence of his latest work in press-friendly soundbytes, he poses a series of philosophical questions to grab our attention. 'Is truth the sum of what we see and hear?' 'Can reality be represented?' and 'Is that which is off-camera more precise than that which is on?' - what follows on screen, helps explain his desire to include such obtuse notes.
The tale juxtaposes the lives of several Parisian dwellers. Anne (Juliette Binoche) is a young actress who is about to make her big debut in cinema. She lives with Georges (Thierry Neuvic), a war photographer whose work takes him to the Balkans. His teenage brother Jean (Alexandre Hamidi) comes to Paris, having run away from his father who works an isolated farm. Amadou (Ona Lu Yenke) is a sensitive young black man, from a large family, who teaches deaf-mute children, and Maria (Luminita Gheorghiu) is a middle-aged Romanian woman, who survives on the streets of Paris begging, and sends money home to her family before being deported.
Before long the lives of these characters overlap in a complicated narrative that reveals as much as it conceals. Haneke asserts that "entertainment cinema claims we can show reality as a whole, which isn't true". As a result his film is structurally fragmented and gives the impression that some of its most compelling scenes have actually been omitted. This is evidenced when we see Anne shooting several movie scenes in a murder mystery thriller. At one point, when talking to her director via the camera, he tells her that – joking and make-believe aside – she is going to die in the room they are in and there is no way out. We wonder if she is truly in peril, or if a demanding director is just striving for the ultimate in realist reaction.
Haneke deliberately blurs the line between imagination and reality in a taut, bleak tale that disturbs more than it entertains. Sticking to the tenets outlined in the production note appendix, he captures the disjointed nature of everyday life in an honest, powerful way. Binoche is impressive, as are Ona Lu Yenke as Amadou and Luminita Gheorghiu as Maria. It won't put a smile on your face, but it's a startling piece of cinema that tackles many of life's harsh realities in an unflinching manner.