Hidden, 117 mins,
rated MA 15+, opening in cinemas on 4 May 2006.
(This review originally appeared in the May 2006 issue of the NSW Law Society Journal).
By MICHELE ASPREY, Lawyer
In the March issue of the Journal, I reviewed David Cronenberg’s film A
History of Violence. That could have been the title of Hidden, the
challenging new film from Austria’s Michael Haneke (Benny’s Video,
1992, Funny Games, 1997 The Piano Teacher, 2001).
Hidden, or Caché, is a French language film set in Paris. It
features the great French stars Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche,
both of whom give fine, nuanced performances as an upper-middle class
couple whose comfortable and cultured life is shattered by the
anonymous delivery of mysterious video tapes. Someone is watching and
Hidden caused something of a sensation at Cannes last year, where
Haneke won Best Director, and the film received the FIPRESCI critics
prize and the Ecumenical prize. Apparently its last scene caused more
debate than the whole of any other film showed there. You see, Hidden
masquerades as a thriller, a whodunit, but Haneke does not offer a
simple answer. He gives us plenty of clues, and there are plenty of
possibilities, but Haneke is not as interested in the mystery as he is
in the reaction it provokes in his characters, and through them, us.
This is not a film to see alone. For one thing, there is a very
shocking scene that makes audiences gasp. But more importantly, this is
a film you will want to discuss with friends afterwards. Hidden
operates on two levels. It is both mystery and parable. Haneke has said
that he wanted to make a film about memory, and guilt. Like the
protagonist of A History of Violence, Daniel Auteuil’s character may
hide a guilty secret. Auteuil’s minimalist style of acting is ideally
suited to his role here. He simply will not open up, even to his wife,
and his refusal to admit guilt is tearing his family apart.
On another level, the film addresses the unwillingness of the French
state, and its people, to accept responsibility for their past as a
colonial power, and in particular for the events of 17 October 1961,
when up to 400 Algerian protesters were killed by police in Paris. At
the time, officials claimed that only two had died.
So this is a fascinating and controversial film, but it is also
challenging. And it has its longueurs. One of Haneke’s obsessions is
the power of the image, and he plays with images in this film. The
first shot– and the last – are long, static shots in which nothing
appears to happen. Actually, there are several scenes in which nothing
appears to happen, and this brings the film’s soundtrack into high
relief. So each sound has a greater significance. Or does it?
The couple’s home is interesting, too. It is almost a fortress
insulated by books. Georges (Auteuil) is the presenter of a TV book
review program. The studio backdrop is a huge wall of obviously fake
books. Anne (Binoche) is a literary editor. But despite the number of
books that surround them, their lives come to be dominated by the giant
plasma screen in their lounge room. I found myself distracted from the
main action of the film by that screen, and its news images of war-torn
countries like Iraq and Palestine, each with its own colonial past.
Ironically, and perhaps fittingly, Hidden was released in France just a
few weeks before the November 2005 riots. The screening I attended in
March 2006 was on the day after students and other protesters rioted
outside the Sorbonne. They were protesting what they saw as anti-youth
legislation, which would give employers the right to sack younger
workers more easily. Given that the film’s controversial last scene
happens outside a school, and given that one of the strands of the film
involves the denial of education and economic advantage to a young
Algerian boy, Hidden is a timely film indeed. It could be Haneke’s
masterpiece. It certainly demands our attention.
See more film reviews by Michele Asprey at www.plainlanguagelaw.com