How does the usage of cinematography and editing in Michael Haneke's "Code Unknown" reinforce the lack of communication between characters?

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FS1505                                        22 March 2011


Emmi Makiharju

How does the usage of cinematography and editing in Code Unknown reinforce the lack of communication between characters?

Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys is the most technical film of Austrian director Michael Haneke. Haneke is known for his minimalist approach both in technical and artistic terms. His editing is always meticulous and the cinematography and narratives are eccentric to say the least. Code Unknown follows the lives of four characters and their families who manage to somehow create havoc to each others existence. The film is composed of 46 scenes of which most are tracking shots, the longest lasting approximately nine minutes, without cuts. The scenes are abruptly cut, separated by a black screen that creates a mosaic reality, which is also visible in the narrative of the film. (Horton 2001) Haneke's films scrutinize  the modern world, and Code Unknown especially explores communication and its importance in society and alienation that the contemporary world creates.

        The most visible form of cinematography in the film Code Unknown is the long take. Nearly all scenes are made with few or no cuts. The long take is an alternative to a series of shots, and is a strong creative resource. A long take, in this case, evokes emotions in the viewer without forcing it. In a series of short takes, the viewer is mentally jumping from an illusion to the next, without receiving a chance to explore the scene. (Wyss 2008) In Code Unknown, the viewer is encouraged to supply their own conclusions about what is unfolding in front of them. The film consists of static sequences from a single perspective to avoid patronizing or manipulating the viewer. (Haneke 2004) Haneke uses the long take in Code Unknown to emphasize the importance of communication between the characters. The longest take of nine minutes, in the beginning of the film, tracks the four characters as they walk on a busy street in Paris. As they pass each other and finally collide, they are at a loss for words to diffuse the situation. The camera follows Jean as he tries to flee the scene, and there is a static medium shot of Amadou failing to explain the situation to the police. Another similar scene is when Jean returns home after running away to Paris. The static shot of the father eating when Jean accompanies him, with only a few words muttered, creates a very tense

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ambiance that continues as the father follows the camera into the bathroom to sit by himself. The

bleak scene lasting a few minutes does not specifically add to the narrative, but the viewer senses an emotional distance and longing between the characters.  

        Even though the cinematography in Code Unknown is the form the viewer might draw attention first, Haneke also uses editing to further the theme of miscommunication. His use of abrupt cuts between scenes carry out a sense of discontinuity, not only in the narrative, but in the relationships between characters. Cutting scenes in the middle, even ...

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A few instances of poor grammar, and a few instances of repetition, but on the whole a very insightful and well written piece of analysis. The essay lacks insight into the Marxist beliefs of the film-maker and the Marxist origins of some of his cinematic devices and techniques, e.g. dialectic montage. While this does prevent the author from noticing how critical this film is of middle-class values in particular, it does not prevent them from grasping the reasons Haneke uses these techniques and devices. I'd award the essay as it stands a solid 4 stars (high 2.1)