Code Unknown Blu-ray Review

     Actors: Juliette Binoche, Thierry Neuvic, Luminita Gheorghiu
  • Director: Michael Haneke
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, AC-3, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: November 10, 2015
  • Run Time: 117 minutes


            Code Unknown often feels more like a film by Krzysztof Kieślowski than Michael Haneke’s follow-up to Funny Games (1997), and I say this with the highest regard. It is not just that Code Unknown stars Juliette Binoche, who starred in one of the films in Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy, but also a similarity in theme and style. Though the narrative construct is different, this film continues discussion of social themes often found in Kieślowski’s work, such as Blind Chance (1981). And like much of Kieślowski’s work, there is an ambiguity to Haneke’s narrative, forcing the audience to participate in the deconstruction of its meaning.


            Code Unknown is book-ended by two single-shot scenes on a street outside of the apartment of Anne (Binoche), an actress at the center of the various narratives. In the opening scene, we are introduced to many of the significant characters of the disjointed storylines. Waiting for Anne outside of her apartment building is Jean (Alexandre Hamidi), the younger brother of her boyfriend, Georges (Thierry Neuvic). Jean’s behavior is somewhat erratic, so Anne gives him the keys to her apartment, but he ends up in an altercation on his way. After throwing a crumpled pastry bag (which may or may not have been empty) into the lap of a begging Romanian immigrant named Maria (Luminita Gheorghiu), a young African music teacher named Amadou (Ona Lu Yenke) stops him and insists that he apologizes to the woman.


            This altercation ends with Maria and Amadou being taken away by the police, while Jean is free to leave without explanation. This is clearly a statement on the treatment of immigrants in Paris, though the ambiguity of the situation is revealed through various other vignettes with these characters. There is much more going on than we first understood, showing that often the right code is needed in interpreting certain facts. Haneke plays with this idea throughout the entire running-time of Code Unknown, giving brief and often ambiguous scenes which are mostly done in one shot and end abruptly with a cut to black. The audience is given the task of compiling each of these vignettes, deciding what they mean and how they are each connected to each other.


            Code Unknown is deceptively simple in terms of plot and narrative, though the construction of the film is meticulously planned and executed. This is clear in listening to Haneke explain his thought process behind the filming within the special features for the film. There is a new interview with Haneke, as well as one from 2001 and an introduction to the film. The filmmaker explains the process behind choosing the key boulevard location for the filming, going over each of the elements crucial to the scene. Also included is Filming Haneke, a documentary from 2000 about the making of the film. Additionally, a new interview with film scholar Roy Grundmann is included, along with an essay by film critic Nick James in the foldout insert.  


    Entertainment Value: 7/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10

    Historical Significance:  8.5/10

    Special Features: 8.5/10

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