“Hidden” is the latest film from German auteur Michael Haneke, director of “Code Unknown” and “Funny Games”. The film has already garnered a multitude of awards, including the best director and Jury prizes at Cannes . This is perhaps unsurprising, as the film is a textbook example of European art house cinema, being perplexing and quite obviously more concerned with symbolism and enigmatic themes than with narrative. This is not to suggest that “Hidden” is a bad film, as it is cleverly directed, well acted, and for the most part quite gripping. However, Haneke as usual aims not to entertain or to tell a story, but to use and manipulate the cinematic medium to find meaning. As such, whilst the film is easy to admire, it is difficult to truly enjoy, and is in many ways a frustrating and unsatisfying experience.
The set up is deceptively simple, revolving around a Parisian couple, Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche, “Chocolat”) who begin to receive strange videotapes containing hours of seemingly pointless footage of their home, accompanied by strange, childish drawings of a face with blood pouring from its mouth. Since there is no direct threat implied, the police refuse to take any action. As the couple begin to crack under the pressure and grow more paranoid with every tape, the mysterious stalker steps up his actions, leading Georges to confront a dark secret from his past.
The plot as such is interesting, and for a good part of its running time the film is similarly intriguing, with Haneke gradually and subtly notching up the tension. The ways in which the couple react to the intrusion on their lives is believable, and it is difficult not to be drawn into their feelings of apprehension and fear. The film is eminently unpredictable, with a number of surprising twists, and one genuinely shocking scene which is guaranteed to leave jaws agape.
Unfortunately, as the film draws towards its close, it becomes quite obvious that a conclusion in the conventional sense is unlikely. Whilst strictly speaking Haneke finds thematic closure, it is a little annoying to have the narrative simply left hanging with a deliberately cryptic final shot, and although the viewer can draw their own conclusions as to what has happened, much remains unresolved.
Haneke uses the narrative and the characters to explore themes of guilt, responsibility and racism, specifically through the issues of French colonialism and the often hypocritical attitudes of the country’s modern liberals. On a wider scale, he examines the complacency of the Western world, and the paranoia and duplicity surrounding the war against terrorism. In this way, “Hidden” is certainly an ambitious, wide reaching film which makes an admirable attempt to engage the intellect, and which keeps the viewer thinking after the credits have rolled.
The film is directed in an austere, though stylish manner, using handheld camera and surveillance footage to give a sense of intimacy, through which Haneke makes the viewer feel uncomfortably like a voyeur. The pace is deliberately slow, with many long, unmoving shots in which very little happens, and the viewer is forced to examine the image to work out fully what is being shown. There are various instances when the viewer is unsure whether what they are watching is actually happening, or is on one of the tapes, or even a dream. This does create an atmosphere of unease, and successfully passes on the characters’ growing distress, though it at times feels a little self-conscious, and to an extent Haneke overplays his hand.
Although “Hidden” may have the appearance of a thriller on paper, it is not really a film for the casual viewer, or for anyone seeking straightforward entertainment. Though artfully made, it requires considerable effort from the viewer, not only in terms of intellect, but a willingness to overlook the wilfully obscure narrative in favour of alluded meaning.
Michael Haneke (director) / Michael Haneke (screenplay)
CAST: Daniel Auteuil …. Georges
Juliette Binoche …. Anne
Maurice B’nichou …. Majid
Annie Girardot …. Georges’s Mom
Daniel Duval …. Pierre