Memory, Trauma, and the French-Algerian War: Michael Haneke’s Caché (2006)
63rd Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Convention
“…What is denied or repressed in a lapse of memory does not disappear; it returns in a transformed, at times disfigured and disguised manner” (Dominick LaCapra, History and Memory after Auschwitz, 10)
“Moi, j’ai appris ça pas avant deux ans, par hasard, dans un documentaire dans ARTE sur cet événement en ’61 et j’étais super choqué parce que je me disais, ‘Comment on peut avoir, dans l’année 1961, 200 morts qui sont dans la Seine et personne ne parle de ça pendant des années et des années?’ Ça m’a tellement irrité que je me disais mais on doit en parler dans ce contexte.” (Michael Haneke, director of Caché, dvd taped interview)
The film Caché (2006), directed by the Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, is a film about what happens when the hidden becomes exposed, about the return of repressed memory and its disfigurements. It deals more specifically with what Jean-Luc Einaudi has termed the “Battle of Paris,” the police massacre on October 17, 1961 of hundreds of Algerians participating in a peaceful demonstration against the French occupation of Algeria, an event that for many years was wiped from French collective memory as the above quote from Haneke suggests. This paper will examine Caché and its treatment of the October 1961 massacre in light of recent scholarship about memory and trauma. Haneke’s film does not attempt to uncover or recreate lost memory by retelling the story of the 1961 massacre. In fact, it pointedly avoids any direct representation of the traumatic event itself. What Caché does uncover is the enduring psychological trauma inflicted by the massacre and left unhealed by the inability of the French to effectively mourn that event. In this sense, it takes a much less literal and descriptive approach than that of many other films dealing with the Algerian war. Caché suggests that when dealing with a traumatic event, it is not necessarily the role of film to remember for us by providing cinematic snapshots of historical events. Rather, I will argue, it demands of the viewer a complex, critical position, requiring us not merely to passively re-witness the traumatizing events of October 17, but to take on as viewers a more active role in the work of remembering. Caché encourages active viewership by both illustrating and questioning how film and other media forms contribute to the working through of collective trauma and, in so doing, function as potential lieux de mémoires or “sites of memory.”
Michael Haneke, Cache (2006)
French and Francophone Language and Literature
Nancy E. Virtue (2009).
Memory, Trauma, and the French-Algerian War: Michael Haneke’s Caché (2006). Presented at 63rd Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Convention, Snowbird, Utah.