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Biopolitical Violence in the Cinema of Michael Haneke: Code Unknown – Elena del Rio

2012 March 30
by Shared by Steve Rust

As part of an ongoing effort to expand the scope and scale of ecomedia studies, we’ve asked a number of folks from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies to post their work or send it to us to post.  Today’s entry features Elena del Rio, who has graciously submitted the abstract for her paper…

“Biopolitical Violence in the Cinema of Michael Haneke: Code Unknown”

Intermingling a series of divergent narratives, Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown (2002) aims at drawing the unlikely points of contact between the lives of French citizens and those of Eastern European and African immigrants. In the film, Anne is an actress living in Paris with her photojournalist boyfriend Georges; Georges’ brother, Jean, shows up in Paris in flight from the life of rural farming that awaits him in Kosovo. Amadou is a young African immigrant partly integrated into French culture, while Maria is a wholly disenfranchised Romanian immigrant who alternates begging on the Parisian boulevards with survival-level jobs. Arguably, one of Haneke’s primary concerns in this film is to stage a confrontation between political forces and life forces—their difference as well as their inextricable interdependence. On the one hand, Code Unknown shows life as wholly subsumed within biopolitics—the exhaustive public organization of life processes. But simultaneously, the film offsets the subsumption of life under biopolitical control by countering a minute dissection of the incalculable affective forces that we see at play in the volatile encounters between individuals of diverse backgrounds, ages, genders, and ethnicities. It is precisely this convergence of calculated subjection and incalculable affective experience that I’d like to discuss in this paper, and the way in which this convergence propels the film’s investment in resistance over power and vital force over violence. I will first describe how Code Unknown instantiates the concept of biopolitical violence, and will then argue that the film complicates the instantaneous capture of subjects by biopower with its nuanced accounting of vital affective forces.


One Response leave one →
  1. srust permalink*
    April 1, 2012

    Thanks for this Elena. I’m particularly interested in the question of intentionality when it comes to biopower. If political power is diffuse (or is it?) what are the triggering forces behind biopower in the EU for example. Is biopower itself an organizing force or indicative of certain people in positions of authority and power? I’ll go back to Focault of course but wanted to wonder aloud while reading your work.

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