Code Unknown (2000) was his first full-on exploration in to racial issues outside of just white people. What’s crazy is that if you were to rank his filmography, Code Unknown would probably be somewhere at the bottom yet it still belongs on anyone’s honorable mention on a best of the decade list. That's how great of a filmmaker Michael Haneke is. His personal "worst" is still better than most. In the film we see quite a few scenes of racism and racial tension like the introduction where a young African male is wrongly arrested after standing up for a homeless Muslim woman who was disrespected in public by a young white teen. Although it’s a very good scene (done in one continuous shot) it’s not really telling us anything new. Especially in the year 2000. Cops can be quite racist & bigoted. If anything I guess that scene was trying to tell us that America isn’t the only place where racial profiling & racist police exist but there were already plenty of European films (like La Haine) that explored that. But there's one profound scene in Code Unknown (which we'll get in to in a bit) that represents something many people (especially in America) are afraid to talk about or acknowledge because it brings about discomfort & embarrassment.
Unfortunately we still live in a society where minorities, people of color & women are still sometimes judged or pre-judged based on the actions of other minorities, people of color & women. Some of you may not wanna admit this, but it’s true. If that weren’t the case then people wouldn’t ask me the stupid shit they sometimes do or make the stupid assumptions about me they sometimes do - "You're black and like movies? You must love Tyler Perry then, right?" During my employment at a local video store in Connecticut I can’t tell you the number of times I've heard; "You've seen The Cookout, right?" or "How'd you like Barbershop?" as if I automatically saw those movies. Now, those aren’t the worst racial insults known to man but those kinda questions & assumptions are still very telling and it says a lot (and trust me, people have made way worse assumptions about me to my face over the years).
|Subway confrontation in Code Unknown|
The ethnicity and even gender of the two male actors in this scene are interchangeable. Living in NYC I’ve had plenty of moments where I make an unspoken connection through eye contact with another black person on the train after observing another black person act like a fool. Some of you may be quick to judge and call me an uncle tom or accuse me of being embarrassed of my race but it’s nothing like that all. It’s the opposite. I have nothing but black pride but unfortunately I'm aware of how we're judged and still grouped in as one cookie-cutter like-minded group of people. I truly wish things weren’t like that. The representation of ones entire race should never be placed on one person but being wrongfully judged by a mass of people (keyword: mass) really gets under my skin even though there's nothing I can do about it. Do you really think the older Algerian man would have stood up and done something if the teenager was white? No, of course not. The older man probably came from a generation of Algerians who took a lotta unjust shit from white europeans yet paved the way for younger Algerians, Africans, Muslims & people of color in France and here comes this young punk to essentially piss all over that.
This scene has a spiritual connection to a later Haneke film (Cache) as the same two Algerian actors in the scene from Code Unknown play father & son in Cache. Every time I watch this scene from Code Unknown I can’t help but think of the Apex students (made up of mostly Black & Latino males) outside my old job that harass women as they walked by, play dice & have pull-up competitions as if they were in a prison yard. Although it’s unfair and not all their fault, the actions of those Apex students somewhat affect others. I know this sounds insecure (and I guess it is) but there's truth behind my insecurity. In order to get in our old building you had to pass through what I liked to call the "Apex Gauntlet" where every other word is "Nigga" and most conversations were about lack of child support payments (that’s not meant to be funny either. It’s the truth). Do you really think my former white middle-aged co-workers who commute in from parts of Long Island & New Jersey where people of color (especially black people) are scarce don’t momentarily associate me, the very next person of color they see, with those Apex students? I once had a co-worker ask me; "when you aren’t in your work clothes do you sag your pants like those Apex guys?" Do you think when a female cries on the job most men don’t momentarily associate weakness with women?
There’s a scene in Clint Eastwood’s Bird where Charlie Parker asks Dizzy Gillespie why he’s always on time to gigs and why he never gets high like the other Jazz players and Gillespie angrily replies; “Because that’s what they expect us to do.” Like I already said, it’s unfair but this is the world we live in and there won’t be much change any time soon. That's what Code Unknown is ultimately about - the film offers no answer or resolution. Actually, the subway scene ends with the young Algerian teen quickly startling Binoche & the older Algerian man before running off. See what I mean? Although the older Algerian had a profound message and essentially just wanted to slap some sense into to the youngster, nothing registered. He’s gonna keep on being young & ignorant until he gets an even bigger reality check.
|an argument ensues in Cache|
Early on in the film before the audience is able to piece together what Cache is essentially about, Haneke throws in a scene that, in my opinion, represents the racial tension that still exists between some black people & white people. In the scene George and his wife (played by Juliette Binoche) walk out in to the street without looking and at the same time a young guy on a bicycle, going the wrong way, whizzes by almost knocking them over and an argument ensues. There's immediate aggression between George and the man on the bike (who happens to be black). Things are eventually defused by Binoche but George and the nameless bike rider go their separate ways with a sour taste in their mouths.
Haneke knew what he was doing. Is there any coincidence that the person George gets in to an argument with, in a film about racial tension and France's racist past, is a dark skinned African male? And it’s not like Algiers is the only African country to have issues with France over the years. The still of George arguing with the young African guy is the most commonly used image to represent Cache among writers, critics, bloggers and other promotional vehicles for the film (seriously, Google image "Cache movie" and see what comes up). It’s one isolated moment that doesn’t really tie in to the immediate plot yet it’s the first nod at the racial tension that’s to come later on in the film.