Cine Outsider header
front page    disc reviews    film reviews    articles    interviews  
The discreet guilt of the bourgeoisie
A region 2 DVD review of HIDDEN / CACHÉ by Slarek
 
"What wouldn't we do not to lose what's ours?"
Majid

 

There's a nice little film trick played on the audience in the opening minutes of Michael Haneke's disarmingly gripping Hidden [Caché]. A static shot of a town house, filmed from the side road opposite, plays uninterrupted for three minutes, a long time in film terms. Minor distraction is supplied as the opening credits type quietly out at the top, arranged in the way they might appear on the movie poster. Once they have moved on we we are left once again with the house. Nothing particularly significant happens. Cut to the same house, different angle, later that evening. The road is now dark, and the occupiers emerge, look around for something or someone, then go back inside. Cut back to the first shot and the house is once again bathed in sunlight. Just as you're starting to have a sense of temporal displacement, the image is rewound and voices are heard discussing the content of what we now realise is a video tape, one that both we and the two characters who emerged from the house in shot 2 have been watching. See this in a cinema and there is an instant reaction, that smiling "ahhh" that occurs when an audience has been misled but appreciates the artistry used to effect the deception. It's a trick that will be repeated later on and will produce exactly the same response.

But as with every other element of Haneke's film, the scene has purpose, developing his ongoing interest in society's perception (or otherwise) of the difference between real life and the image of it presented to us by the media in its various guises. The trick here is that on screen, whether in the cinema or on DVD, you really cannot tell film action from watched tape until the director clues you in. Video footage has proved an integral aspect of may films before, from Sidney Lumet's The Anderson Tapes and Hideo Nakata's Ringu to the works of Atom Egoyan and even Haneke himself, but its very nature as video footage – grainy, fuzzy, low resolution – has always been used to identify it as such. By shooting on high-def and grading the in-story video to look the same as the feature, Haneke eliminates the visual clues that enable us to separate what we and what the characters are watching, something extended later to the presentation of memories and even nightmares. Just what is real, here? Is it live, or is it Memorex?

The tapes in question have been left on the doorstep of TV presenter Daniel Laurent and his book publisher wife Anne. There is initially no accompanying note, and the tapes consist of single, static shots of the house exterior, but filmed from a position that should have made the camera and its operator clearly visible to the couple when they went outside. But they weren't. Now some of you will be hearing bells of recognition here, this being a similar to the set-up to David Lynch's Lost Highway, something emphasised by the family name of the lead characters (the name Dick Laurent is a key element of Lynch's film). The similarities extend to the relationships at the centre of both films, which are already in trouble and during the course of the story will see further disintegration. Whereas in Lost Highway we then move into the territory of waking nightmare, Hidden stays rooted firmly in the real world. Both are essentially thrillers, but the noir horror of Lynch is here replaced by social drama with a political undercurrent. Some of the same triggers may occur in both, but these are otherwise two very different films.

The title of Haneke's film is itself open to multiple readings, though at first does seem specific to the lead characters and their social standing. Their marriage is slowly collapsing, Anne may or may not be having an affair, and their young son Peirrot is showing signs of increased disconnection with his parents, but they continue to uphold the middle class rituals that define who they are. Every aspect of their lives involves keeping things concealed, whether it be the truth from their friends or from each other, or even the comments that are carefully edited from Georges's TV discussion show. As further video tapes show up, wrapped in child-like drawings decorated with images of blood, the family tension increases. Are they threats or accusations? Only George seems to have an inkling of who may be behind this, something that seems to be confirmed when one tape provides him with the route to an unknown apartment...

The real problem with engaging in any detailed discussion on Hidden is that to do so would mean revealing a number of key plot points that should be discovered only on the first viewing of the film, but not to do so makes it difficult to qualify some of the claims I'd happily make for the film's subtle complexity, depth and effectiveness. There is brief reference, for example, to the massacre of 17th October 1961, when in the final stages of the Algerian War for Independence aproximately 200 Algerians were killed by French Police, working under orders from Chief of Police Maurice Papon. No detail on the statement is provided, but this reflects a long-standing and widespread refusal to discuss the issue in the very country in which it took place, and, targeted as the film is primarily at a French audience, needs no expansion. "Enough said," concludes Georges uncomfortably after saying very little, and in a single short statement becomes symbolic of white French society at large in relation to its attitude to 'the Algerian issue'.

Similar layering surrounds a moment of sudden and jarring violence later in the narrative, an event that would be too easy to dismiss as shock tactics (the collective reaction in a full cinema is something to witness), but which both prompts the final emergence of a buried truth and further illustrates the self-centred nature of the most directly affected character. But the act itself also has political resonance, something a friend of mine who works directly with Algerian refugees found particularly powerful, having heard a disturbing share of tales involving just such a destructive act. Thematically the film also sees a revival of Haneke's interest in the cause and effect of chaos theory first explored in the remarkable Code Unknown, where a thoughtless and selfish action, however insignificant to the perpetrator, can have far reaching consequences for others.

As the narrative progresses, the possible interpretations and applications of that seemingly simple title increase. Conversations take place after scenes have concluded or too far away for us to hear, confessional faces are concealed by the dark of night, and feelings of guilt and responsibility are wilfully buried so that the rituals of public and private life can continue untainted. The film itself remains secretive about key narrative elements, leaving the audience to speculate and perhaps devise their own theories about what has taken place, which itself prompted a discussion with friends that even threw up a partially metaphysical reading for one element. Despite its ostensibly thriller structure, there is no final, comfortable resolution for the characters or the narrative, which ends on an unmoving, enigmatic wide shot that is itself plump with suggestion, especially for those paying close attention to all areas of the screen.

Hidden uses the trappings of the thriller to explore wider issues, both social and domestic, and does so with a subtlety and intelligence that is only fully appreciated a couple of viewings in, when a foreknowledge of things to come presents alternative readings of the actions and dialogue that precede it. The cast is uniformly impressive, with Daniel Auteuil as George and Juliette Binoche as Anne never letting their frustration and barely controlled anger slip into melodrama and really showing their worth in the smallest of moments, but both Maurice Bénichou and Walid Afkir are also quietly excellent in roles I have deliberately avoided discussing here. Particularly effective is the economy in the dialogue and performance, with complete back stories hinted at through short verbal exchanges and the manner of their delivery, and even seemingly throwaway lines sometimes laced with deeper meaning. "I have nothing to hide," says Georges at one point. "Really?" is the simple but suggestive reply.

Haneke has repeatedly proved his worth as one of the smartest, albeit most pessimistic directors working in current European cinema, and many have claimed that Hidden is his finest film yet. I'm not so sure, as I still regard Funny Games as a work of considerable brilliance and hold Code Unknown in supremely high regard. But it's certainly up there with his best work, and that's no small recommendation in itself.

Which brings me handily to the sometimes extreme critical response the film has prompted. Haneke has over the years displayed a nifty talent for splitting critical opinion into virtually polar opposites, attracting passionate praise on one hand and loudly dismissive attacks on the other. Hidden has proved no exception, with some pretty wild claims made for the film's unbridled brilliance going up against reviews whose negativity borders on intellectual mouth frothing. I certainly don't agree with Mark Lawson's DVD cover-mounted claim that this is "the first great film of the 21st century," but a trawl through the reaction from both camps does see those who are supportive of the film making their case in detailed and often convincing manner, while those against it seem driven more by bile and a deep-rooted hatred of Haneke and his work. This appears to be partly born of a sort of intellectualist macho, a refusal to admit being affected negatively by a film that was designed to do just that (something particularly true of Funny Games). Not everyone will like it, which is the way of all cinema, but some of the arguments thrown against Hidden have been a little shallow in scope and even contradictory, accusing it of being unfocussed on one hand and manipulative on the other, a silly brickbat to throw given the manipulative nature of film as a medium and the thriller genre in particular. It may well be that one of the unexpected triumphs of Hidden is that in exploring the narrow views and prejudices of its characters, Haneke has unexpectedly but effectively exposed those of his angrier detractors.

sound and vision

As mentioned above, the film was shot on High Definition video and generally looks superb on this DVD incarnation. Detail is excellent throughout, with contrast and colour close to perfect. Some compression artefacts are visible in some darker scenes, but only just. On the whole, there is little to fault here. The framing is 1.78:1 and the picture is anamorphically enhanced.

Dolby 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround tracks are available, but there is little to really choose between them. Background sound is a little louder on the stereo track, while the spread is more subtle on the 5.1. The LFE and rears play almost no part in a track that is largely remarkable for its subtlety.

extra features

Only four extra features here, but the first two are substantial in both length and content.

The Michael Haneke Interview (25:26), conducted by Serge Toubiana,and sees the director being far more open and cheerfully chatty about the intentions and themes of the film that I would have expected. It includes some interesting insights into his reading of certain aspects of his characters, and Haneke discusses the Algerian situation and the public's refusal to discuss it in some detail, has some lovely advice about staging and editing a scene for drama, and talks quite a bit about the final shot, so don't watch this before seeing the film.

The Making of Hidden (31:51) is an on-set documentary that includes interviews with Haneke, Juliette Binoche, Daniel Auteuil and executive producer Margaret Ménégoz, and is useful for providing a rare look at Haneke the director at work. His perfectionism in particular comes across, though at one point results in him balling out the camera crew for not delivering on a promise. Much of the time, though, he is far more easy going than his films might lead you to expect, kicking against Mark Kermode's post-Funny Games description of him as a "humourless Austrian." Binoche wishes the director's films had a little more light in them, while Haneke himself says cheerfully "I'm lucky enough to make films, so I don't need to see a psychiatrist."

The Theatrical Trailer (2:01) very nicely sells the thriller elements of the film without revealing any key information from the later stages (American trailer makers please take note), though does not really hint at the film's dramatic layering. Well what did you expect? It's also cut a lot faster than anything in the feature. It IS well done, though.

There are also Filmographies for Haneke, Binoche and Auteuil, with a brief biography for Haneke.

summary

Not for everyone, sure, and if you have a bug up your bum about Haneke already then this is going to do little to change it. But the director has here fashioned a thought-provoking and compelling drama in thriller clothing, and one that is worth seeing as a group in part to be involved in the discussion on afterwards. The best advice is to not be swayed either by the hype or the put-downs, but to experience the film on its own merits with as open a mind as possible, not easy I know given the weight of opinion that surrounds it. Certainly the film plays better with a large audience, but you'll be lucky to find it at a cinema now, and thus Artificial Eye's fine DVD is definitely the way to go.

Hidden
Caché

France / Austria / Germany / Italy 2005
109 mins
director
Michael Haneke
starring .
Daniel Auteuil
Juliette Binoche
Maurice Bénichou
Annie Girardot
Walid Afkir

DVD details
region 2
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby stereo 2.0
Dolby surround 5.1
languages
French
subtitles
English
extras
Interview with director
Making-of documentary
Trailers
Filmographies
distributor
Artificial Eye
release date
19 June 2006
review posted
15 June 2006

related reviews
The Seventh Continent
71 Fragments of a Chrononolgy of Chance
Benny's Video [The Michael Haneke Trilogy]
Benny's Video [stand-alone DVD]

See all of Slarek's reviews