Shame: Michael Haneke and Collective Memory Essays

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Title of Coursework: An essay to compare and contrast the techniques used to evoke not just memories but also the process of remembering in Michael Haneke’s Cache and Alan Resnais’s Muriel ou le temps d’un retour
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An essay to compare and contrast the techniques used to evoke not just memories but also the process of remembering in Michael Haneke’s Cache and Alan Resnais’s Muriel ou le temps d’un retour

Despite cultivating in an extraordinary loss of life and an even larger number of refugees, ending over a century of French colonisation after nearly a decade of war, the Algerian war of independence possesses an obscure position in the French collective memory. Often described as the ‘unnamed war’ the Algerian war of independence alongside French colonisation as a whole provides a pivotal point in French history, dividing opinion and bringing to debate not just the banalities of war and the horrific methods used within such conflicts but also the ideas of individual and collective memories, French guilt and freedom of speech. Although recent phenomena has seen contemporary French cinema approach these subjects in growing number and candour, this has been the result of a long restless fight against censorship in films tackling the idea of colonisation. Two films in particular Michael Haneke’s 2006 film Cacheé and Alan Resnais’s 1963 film Muriel ou le temps d’un retour not only engage with France’s traumatic past of decolonization in Algeria but also approach “the ways in which the memories of individuals are shaped, transformed, indeed created by a shared vision of the past, driven by it’s own logic and desire”(Greene: 1996:1). Resnais’ Muriel was released a year after the end of the Algerian war, after a period of French cinema that was “very safe, very French, very apolitical”(Sherzer 1996:6) and over forty years before Haneke’s Cache, yet both films similarly deal with the inner conflict of the process of remembering and the consequent effects of the memories found within.

Both Muriel and Cache depict the effects of the Algerian war on French society and individual memory in the ways that both separate films, similarly evoke memories of the past through the superimposition’s of these memory’ies hidden in the images of the present. Indeed both Haneke and Resnais utilise a similar narrative structure that creates palimpsests within images, presenting hidden meanings under the forefront of imagery concerning the echoes of France’s troubled collective memory. This is evident throughout Cache as Haneke repeatedly challenge’s audience’s to question the authenticity of their own collective memory as sequences become growingly more ambiguous and “we end up as a result anxious about our ability to distinguish between (the film’s) reality and the images that are represented as being produced by the terrorists”(Kline 2010:560). From the very first shot of Cache, Haneke plays with our expectations, maintaining a long still establishing shot inviting spectators to search for the shot’s focus point, only to reveal that we are (similarly to GerogesGeorges and Anne) watching a recording, footage from the past. In Haneke’s world memories are not always to be trusted, a point that is reaffirmed as the tapes become more explicit in detail as “each new instance of footage causes us to reconsider our earlier interpretations”(Lykidis 2010:462) consequently therefore, as more of our individual memory is revealed the more we must reconsider and revaluate what we’ve known in our collective memory. Furthermore the obscurities of collective memories are further explored as the narrative structures in both Muriel and Cache centre their focuses on