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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Code Unknown (Blu-ray)
Code Unknown (Blu-ray)
Criterion // Unrated // November 10, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted November 4, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

The full title of this film from Michael Haneke, the first he would make in France, is actually Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales Of Several Journeys and there's a reason, that becomes fairly clear as the movie goes on, why Haneke chose the longer title for his picture. At its core, the film is really a series of vignettes about a random group of people and their attempts to make what they can out of life.

We follow an actress named Anne (Juliette Binoche) who finds some success in the performing arts but never quite makes it to the height of popularity she'd like. Anne's boyfriend, George (Thierry Neuvic), makes his living as a photographer but finds himself rather shaken by his last assignment where he traveled to Eastern Europe to document the war. George's brother is being groomed by their father to inherit and take over the family farm once the patriarch can no longer take care of it, but it's not what he wants to do with his life. A lady who illegally immigrated from Romania to France finds her life as a street beggar altered by her interactions with these people and with an African man employed as a teacher who enjoys fighting for the downtrodden.

From the opening scene where a small group of deaf children are playing a game of charades to the finale, which packs a bit of an emotional punch, Haneke is obviously trying to make a statement about the way that people communicate with one another or, in certain scenes, the ways that they do not communicate with one another when they should. Each of the central characters in the film interacts with one another in some way and these interactions and communications have a trickledown effect that obviously affects the other players, just as our actions in real life affect those around us.

Juliette Binoche does strong work here. She's well cast, physically suitable for the part with her distinctive features photographing very well, but so too is she believable in the part as well. The scenes between Binoche and Thierry Neuvic are dramatically poignant and well-acted from both parties, adding further depth to the story. The other cast members all do fine work here as well but it's Binoche whose character is the most interesting and it is therefore understandable that it is her performance that is the most memorable.

The first part of the film is really just a few different glimpses into the lives of these characters and initially, there's really no story. This changes as the film progresses but much of the film remains simple looks, almost voyeuristic peeks, into the day to day activities of the cast of characters. While this grounds the work in the real world, it doesn't always make for riveting viewing. There are times where it almost feels like Haneke is intentionally boring us, trying to grind into our psyches the monotony of day to day life. It makes for interesting food for thought, though it's not what most of us would consider exciting entertainment.

Thankfully, even during these slower moments, the film always looks good. A scene where a tractor drives through a field isn't the most exciting thing ever shot but it is captured in such a way that it proves to be rather symbolic, its trail representing the divides between certain characters in the film. Moments like this stick with you and allow you to forget about the slower parts of the film and the random, disjointed narrative structure. It's a film that should be enjoyed as a few unusual slices of life rather than a standard narrative piece. Not for all tastes, to be certain, but very well made and quite fascinating in its own odd way.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

Code Unknown arrives on Blu-ray from Criterion in a new 2k restoration supervised by Haneke himself and it looks excellent. Detail is strong in pretty much every frame of the presentation and the image is clean, clear and nicely textured. Grain is present, as it should be, but there's really no serious print damage to note at all. Colors look lifelike and natural, never oversaturated and really complementing Haneke's storytelling style quite nicely. The image is free of compression artifacts and edge enhancement problems and there's no obvious noise reduction here either. The end result is a nice, film-like transfer that really takes advantage of the format in every way that you'd want it to.

Audio:

Criterion give the film a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, in its native French, with optional subtitles provided in English. Clarity and balance are strong throughout the film and the score is impressively rendered here as well. At the same time, dialogue stays clean, crisp and clear and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. Range is solid and this is, again, a nice representation of the movie. The subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors.

Extras:

Extras start out with an optional Introduction By Haneke that was recorded years back in 2001. It runs four and a half minutes in length. More substantial and more interesting is a new interview with Haneke that runs just short of twenty-nine minutes.

Criterion has also included a documentary made in 2000 called Filming Haneke that is basically a making of piece made up of interviews with Haneke, actress Juliette Binoche, and producer Marin Karmitz. This interview footage is cut into some interesting material shot by the documentarians on the set of the film while it was being shot. The eleven minute Interview From 2001 once again gets Haneke in front of the camera, this time with a strong focus on the scenes that were shot on the boulevard, explaining how and why they were put together the way that we see them in the finished version of the movie. Film scholar Roy Grundmann also shows up in a separate twenty-four minute long segment. He offers a pretty concise analysis of Haneke's film, providing some insight into the film's history along the way. Interesting stuff.

Rounding out the extras are three separate teaser trailers for the feature, menus and chapter selection. Inside the clear Blu-ray case is an insert booklet containing credits for both the feature and the Blu-ray itself as well as an interesting essay on the film by film critic Nick James.

Final Thoughts:

Code Unknown will, for some, be a little on the challenging side as it is a very unconventional picture by anyone's standards, but it's very well executed on the part of director Haneke and nicely performed by all involved. If you're looking for something a little different and appreciate though provoking arthouse drama, this should appeal to you. Criterion's presentation is beautiful and the film not only looks and sounds fantastic but it's got a nice selection of supplements accompanying it as well. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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