‘Cache’ in on a brainy thriller 

Russians get it right with ‘Nightwatch.’

click to enlarge Auteuil, Binoche.
  • Auteuil, Binoche.

Every year, it seems, our privacy erodes a little more. Supposedly for our own safety, cameras are everywhere: in elevators, in parking decks, in shopping centers, at intersections. With the rise of the video-equipped phone, surely the day will come in the near future when every moment of our lives that isn’t lived behind locked doors and drawn shades — every gaffe, slip and freak-out — will be subject to the harsh light of posterity. It’s enough to make a guy paranoid.

That brand of paranoia is explored in-depth in the new French thriller “Cache,” playing at Market Street Cinema. A strange and fearfully made thing, its riffs on voyeurism and how something more than an image is taken away by the unblinking camera make for great and unsettling cinema. Though it is thoroughly French (with all the quirks, smirks and political wartiness that implies), it makes for a genuinely new twist on an old genre.

Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche play Georges and Anne Laurent. Other than Daniel’s gig as host of a literary-themed TV talk show, they seem like the most regular of regular folks. Then, out of the blue, a strange videotape lands on their doorstep: two hours of footage that appears to have been shot from a car parked outside their house. Though there’s nothing particularly threatening about the footage — it’s static, as if shot from a tripod — what accompanies it might be: a childlike drawing of a stick figure, its neck spurting red crayon.

Soon, the tape is followed by others, each more intimate than the last. The police refuse to help, saying they can do nothing until a threat or attempt to harm them is made. Finally, a tape arrives that seems to bear certain clues: a street sign, a shabby apartment building, a door with an apartment number. Playing detective, Georges finds that the apartment is occupied by a childhood friend he hasn’t seen in 40 years — Majid (Maurice Benichou), an Algerian who was orphaned as a boy and taken in by Georges’ parents. Despite Georges’ suspicions, Majid says he knows nothing of the videos. It only gets weirder from there.

While “Cache” can be frustratingly slow at times, it is a smart, claustrophobic and thoroughly suspenseful film, designed to keep you teetering on the razor’s edge of confusion with the Laurents. To that end, director Michael Haneke often plays with the audience’s expectations, employing the same long, static shots as the unseen video voyeur. This results in odd, unsettling moments when you literally don’t know whether you’re watching a scene from the movie or another of the surveillance tapes. Even for the serious film buff, it makes for a completely new experience: an odd sense of cinematic vertigo that leaves you wondering whose eyes you’re looking through — not to mention asking yourself the larger question of how much of our interest in film is simply the same voyeurism that drives the action in “Cache.”

“Cache” is a film with a lot of rewards for those willing to work for them. While it forgoes the neat and tidy ending that a Hollywood movie treading the same ground might, it’s still a great little piece of film, and definitely worth the price of a ticket and a tub of popcorn.

‘Nightwatch’ a stunner

For a geek like me, nothing has been more frustrating and/or infuriating in recent years than Hollywood’s inability to transfer the look and feel of comic books to the big screen. With unlimited funds, talent and computer hardware, you’d think somebody could come up with something better than “Underworld,” “Constantine,” “The Punisher” and even the so-so “Sin City.”

Leave it to the Ruskies to finally nail “comic book despair.” The new film “Nightwatch,” starting Friday at Market Street Cinema, perfectly captures the depth and depression of some of the darkest of modern pulp comics. No cheesy pseudo-philosophy. No samurai sword fighting and poseurs in skin-tight leather. Just the dankness of the underworld, and an all-too-magical universe that seems to have its own physics, history and morality.

Konstantin Khabensky stars as Anton. Years before, while trying to win back his girlfriend, who was pregnant with another man’s child, Anton sought out the services of a kind of witch. Kill the child and you’ll get your girl back, the old woman told him, then she cast a spell to do just that. Things went wrong, however, and Anton suddenly found himself in the middle of a centuries old, barely restrained truce between “The Others” — the forces of good (the “Nightwatch”) and the forces of evil (the “Daywatch”), both waiting for a prophesied Messiah to return, choose a side, and settle the war one way or another. What’s more, Anton’s experience reveals him to be an Other, and leaves him with the power to see the future.

I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that soon after the opening credits, Anton and the Nightwatch began to see clues that Armageddon is at hand, and the movie races from there toward a final decision by the pivotal Other: Light, or Dark?

Though you’ve seen most of this before, if you’re a fan of the comic book film genre, you’ve never seen it like this. Shot in modern-day Moscow, “Nightwatch” is a gritty and all-too-real film, one that makes you believe there is really a heft and back-story to the world pictured onscreen. Writer/director Timor Bekmambetov does everything with a smart and quirky style, right down to the English-language subtitles, which swirl, leap, shrink and explode on and off the screen, depending on what’s going on.

In short, “Nightwatch” is a landmark movie, one that’s going to change the way movies are made. Surely it’s going to change the way comic book adaptations are done. For the better, I hope.


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