Indie Flicks

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic
Published February 16, 2006

Your guess is as good as mine

Cache (R) (117 min.) - Michael Haneke's movie is the first in memory to send me searching the Web for spoilers, trying to get the point of what I just saw. The results didn't offer much help: an assortment of guesses ranging from French-Albanian political allegory to a self-indulgent filmmaker's prank.

A purposely vague ending left much of last year's Cannes Film Festival audience crying foul. Rumors flew that Haneke planned to add a clearer finale later. Then the Cannes jury awarded Cache three prizes, and apparently nothing was changed. Sometimes confusion is justified by calling it art. Whatever happened on or off the screen, Cache's frustration is equal to how much it fascinates.

On the surface, the story is Hitchcock with subtitles: A married couple experience growing paranoia as a series of mysterious videotapes indicates someone is spying on them. Exactly who is never revealed. Neither is the why, although we get hints. By its conclusion, Cache assumes the properties of those secret recordings, with long takes, static camera placement and distance that prevents clear explanation.

Yet there is a voyeuristic quality to Haneke's conceit that keeps viewers hooked. He sustains curiosity by dropping clues (or are those red herrings?) into practically every scene. Cache demands a second viewing to improve our chances of understanding, and it deserves that opportunity.

Daniel Auteuil plays Georges, a television talk show host whose relationship with his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) may have been strained before the video intrusions. Their son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky) is a sullen teenager. Infidelity may play a role in that tense triangle, but we can't be sure. Soon the videos are accompanied by childish drawings that appear to represent someone with a slit throat. The locations shift from Georges and Anne's home to places from his past, and we get the feeling that Georges is guilty of something. He may not be the only one.

The mystery seems to be answered when Georges tracks down Majid (Maurice Benichou), a figure from Georges' childhood who flatly denies having anything to do with the tapes. A flash of violence may close the book on the case, but it doesn't. Nearly an hour of running time remains, and things grow murkier from there. Solid performances serve their purposes, although those purposes aren't definite.

Cache is too good to be considered a cheat, and too smug about what we don't know to be unquestionably recommended. Perhaps a hint noted on several Web sites will help: Watch the final shot while the end credits roll, but not in the central portion of the screen, where filmmakers generally want us to look. If you deduce an airtight explanation or message from doing so, please let me know at persall@sptimes.com. B

- STEVE PERSALL, Times film critic

Imagine this - then skip it

Imagine Me & You (R) (94 min.) - If Brokeback Mountain is a leap forward for gay cinema, this lipstick-lesbian romantic comedy is a hop, skip and strenuous jump backward. Everything Ang Lee's movie has been unjustly accused of being - an attack on traditional marriage, a homosexuality recruitment tool or logically incredible - is displayed here.

We're required to buy a lot of bunk: that brides-to-be never meet their wedding florists until the ceremony, that said florists hang around for the formal ceremony in too-casual clothes, and that a fleeting glance while walking down the aisle is the first step toward divorce. We're also supposed to believe everyone, even a 10-year-old girl, knows more about the existence of lesbians than Rachel (Piper Perabo), the bride second-guessing her sexuality.

Rachel and the florist, Luce (Lena Headey), are in love at first sight, their flirtation games beginning at the reception. It's possible but certainly not like this. Before long, Rachel invites her new best friend to dinner where Luce announces her lesbianism to the husband, Hector (Matthew Goode). Apparently it doesn't register, since Hector is blindsided by the eventual revelation of the women's love, and his friend Coop (Darren Boyd) doesn't stop trying to seduce Luce.

Viewers have their pick of the movie's dumbest turns: chance meetings with Luce and another lesbian at a supermarket, a soccer game when Luce teaches Rachel how to yell insults by touching her torso and chest, their passionate interlude interrupted by unsuspecting Hector, and each woman refusing to disrupt the marriage yet doing it anyway. If you haven't chosen before the climactic traffic jam scene, it'll win hands down.

Perabo (Cheaper by the Dozen) fakes naivete slightly less convincingly than her phony British accent. Headey's genuine talent is trapped in an underwritten role, and Goode makes Hector's improbable reactions to everything a bit easier to believe. Imagine Me & You fills the screen with colorful characters and bland developments, none especially funny or romantic. All director Ol Parker proves with his feature film debut is that gay cinema is capable of the same dumb moves as straight romantic comedy. That's progress? D+

- S.P.