1) The form and genre of a film inherently affects the messages and narratives that they display – this is absolutely true of Jean-Paul Lilienfeld’s Skirt Day and Michael Haneke’s Cache, both of which take the thriller genre and use it to explore and investigate their respective narratives of emotional pain, guilt, discrimination and injustice. Skirt Day, for instance, couches itself in the trappings of both the revenge film and the hostage-thriller film, given the film’s plot of a beleaguered female teacher Sonia avenging the many injustices she has seen and experienced at the school by holding all of the children who bullied her hostage in the classroom.
However, the film subverts many of the expectations of the hostage taker film by making the hostage taker the actual protagonist, with whom the movie sympathizes. In the course of the film, it is Sonia who must wake up the cruel, inhumane bullies at her school by holding them at gunpoint and arguing with them until they become, in effect, nicer people. This creates a unique brand of tension within the film, as the audience both hopes no one gets hurt, but also actively roots for the hostage-taker to win. In this respect, Skirt Day appropriates elements of the revenge film, in which ordinary people take extraordinary and violent measures to avenge an injustice. In most revenge films, this is cathartic; however, since the perpetrators are children, who are shown to not be fully cognizant of the consequences or hypocrisy of their actions, the threat of violence becomes much more tense and complicated.
The same kinds of complications can be said of Cache, which is in many ways a psychological thriller, a home-invasion thriller, and more. Playing with the audience’s sympathies, Haneke initially frames the French couple as innocents while they begin to receive increasingly portentous footage of their home. However, as more information about Georges’ history with Majid comes to light, the film’s sympathies turn somewhat more towards Majid and further away from Georges and the family. In essence, their behavior leads to a level of self-destruction simply due to the level of bourgeois guilt they experience by the simple activity of being watched. The true culprit behind the tapes is never revealed, which subverts the genre framework of eventually finding the bad guy and stopping him; instead, the mere existence of the tapes turns the protagonist family into the engineers of their own destruction. In both this and Skirt Day, the respective heroes of the revenge and psychological thriller genres are turned into complicated antiheroes by the end, both directors using the understood clichés of each genre to subvert audience expectations.
2) Alison Jaggar, in “Love & Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology,” defines emotional outlaws as “subordinated individuals who pay a disproportionately high price for maintaining the status quo” (166). These individuals are people who feel strongly and deeply in negative and painful ways, typically due to resentment or anger at the systems that have put them in the societal place that they are in. These emotional extremes are often dismissed or discouraged by society, as people who live in the status quo do not convey these kinds of emotions for fear of admitting that something is wrong with the way they live.
Emotional ‘outlaws’ can be found in both Skirt Day and Cache, typically in the form of the oppressed individuals who end up taking dramatic action to assert their existence and validity in an environment that actively rejects them. In Skirt Day, the primary ‘emotional outlaw’ is Sonia herself – a put-upon teacher who is not normally allowed to fight back against her students’ bullying, or the patriarchal restrictions of Muslim society that discourage her from wearing skirts. Her choices throughout the film, first to wear a skirt to class and then to hold her class hostage in order to express her dismay at their attitudes and actions, demonstrate the kind of abject emotionality that defy the dominant values of propriety and submissiveness among women. Sonia’s choice to stand up for herself in the events of Skirt Day demonstrate her willingness to defy conventional wisdom about what emotions she is supposed to express.
Majid and his son in Cache perform a similar function within Haneke’s film, acting as the emotional outlaws who rebel against the silent marginalization of their people within European society. Clearly a family of Middle Eastern descent, Majid and his son have been subject to incredible prejudice as the result of a society that provides minorities with little ability to criticize the negative things that happen to them. This racism and discrimination fuels Majid’s efforts to return that sense of shame and pain onto Georges and Anne – he feels rejected by European society. As a result, things like the tapes and Majid’s eventual suicide attempt are efforts to instill feelings of guilt in the white upper-class for the injustices they have visited, directly or indirectly, on them through their bourgeois lifestyle. In this way, their feelings of anger and resentment fall outside the status quo, thus making them emotional outlaws.
Cache, Michael (dir.). Caché (France/Austria/Germany/Italy, 2005).
Alison Jaggar, “Love & Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology” Inquiry 32.2 (1989): 151-176. [BB]
Lilienfeld, Jean-Paul (dir.). La Journée de la jupe (Skirt Day, France/Belgium, 2007)