Hidden / Caché
Year of release: 2005
Directed by: Michael Haneke
France, Austria, Germany, United States
Literary talk-show host Georges Laurent, his wife Anne, a successful publisher, and their son Pierrot receive a number of video tapes which suggest that their home is under surveillance, from an anonymous sender. Mysterious drawings accompany these tapes. The alarmed Georges, though not letting his wife in on the secret, has an idea who the sender might be - and he tracks him down.
Although Hidden is set in a white upper middle-class Parisian milieu, is relevant in the context of diasporic family portraits, since Georges's life is intertwined with that of Majid, a man of Algerian descent who grew up together with Georges, the son of servants on the Laurent estate. After Majid's parents were killed during the Paris massacre of 1961, when the French police intervened in a large demonstration of pro-FLN Algerians. The Paris massacre and the killing of a large number of Algerians remained one of the dark secrets of French national memory. George harbours a similarly dark secret in relation to Majid and one that he does not even share with his family.
Film review by Georgia Coles-Riley (student on the Transnational Cinemas course in 2011-12, Media Arts, Royal Holloway)
Michael Haneke makes it excruciatingly difficult to empathise with the protagonists of this film, perhaps even more so than with the pathologically disturbed protagonist of his 2001 film The Piano Teacher. At least the masochist Erika Kohut had a set of defining features, a genuine passion for something and a complex psychological profile. The protagonists of this film are an upper middle class French couple. Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil) is a stiff intellectual who hosts a television chat show about literature. He literally surrounds himself with books in both his professional and personal life. Anne, his wife, is played by a blanched Juliette Binoche. Her wardrobe seems to be entirely made up of Hessian sacks, and she moves around their showroom home in flipflops, scuffing them along the floor. This is a performance far removed from the warmth of her character in Chocolat (2000, Lasse Hallström). In one scene, she even tosses the salad as though it had personally affronted her.
The couple's relationship with each other is fraught at the beginning. They barely touch each other. The bedroom that they share looks like a luxury mausoleum, with dark silk curtains, dark walls, and a substandard beige Rothko imitation hanging over the bed. When the 'stability' of their marriage is threatened by the delivery of a home-made surveillance tape, that is set up to observe the façade of their large home, they suffer from a severe breakdown in marital communication.
Haneke introduces the idea of surveillance quite ingeniously – the opening shot is of what appears to be a standard Parisian street in an affluent area, apparently doing nothing more than establishing a location to the audience. However, the detached voices of Georges and Anne then play over the shot, and suddenly the moving white lines of a tape rewind function appear across the screen. He deploys this technique frequently, and also peppers the film with similarly set up shots that aren't, apparently, from the tapes. This is a disquieting technique, one that reminds the audience of our position as voyeur, at the same time as reminding us of our own susceptibility to surveillance.
The creator of the tapes begins to send the Laurents creepy childlike drawings of a boy with blood spurting out of his mouth. As they are parents, I was surprised that this did not send them into hysterics, and by the time their son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky), eventually went missing, I was almost surprised that they registered emotion. Up to that point, their relationship with their son had been deliberately omitted from the film, limited to a brief shared dinner. There is one shot where Georges and Anne are purported to be revealing parental devotion – their faces light up and they cling to each other smiling when Pierrot wins a swimming race. The shot is bathed in colour and light – of the swimming pool, the other parents clothing etc. – and is the sole 'happy' shot in the entire film. It is so out of place that it seems almost fantastical. It is not long before we are plunged back into the stifling monochrome of the rest of the film.
It does sometimes feels as though this film is an endurance test. That feeling is, of course, a staple reaction to any thriller, but Haneke does not reward us with any scenes that induce a sweating brow, or bursts of nervous, relieved laughter either. I am, usually, very susceptible to fear (I even end up hiding behind the sofa after an average episode of Dr Who), but the tension created in this film is of a very different kind to that found in a Hollywood thriller. Stillness appears to be the primary technique Haneke uses to create tension, but these are not silences that are broken by a sudden shock of noise or action. Instead, stillness is rewarded with more stillness, which eventually peters away into the next formidably silent scene.
There is one scene that contains a short-lived burst of light relief, but even the laughter that that induces is quashed by subtle displays of macho competitiveness and paranoia by Monsieur Laurent. He and his wife are the hosts of a dinner party, attended by people in publishing, whose interactions are a 'performance' apparently absent of feeling. Even when emotional tension is introduced to the dinner party, nobody touches or displays any real attachment to each other. They are so polite, it is hard to believe that they even know each other; they share a moment of genuine uncontrollable laughter and seem subsequently embarrassed by it. Their coolness is complemented by their well tailored clothes. One ice queen sits straight backed in a blue satin trouser suit, almost impassively discussing the apparently serious illness of a mutual friend.
Indeed, the Laurents are presented as desensitized to horror – in one scene, Georges sits at his desk with the television on in the background. Their television is a giant silver one, that takes up the central position in Georges' self constructed 'cage' of bookshelves. The images on the screen depict terror, bloodied corpses and unimaginable grief – Anne and Georges' familiar marital argument obscures our view of it and the sounds of global catastrophe are reduced to muffled background noises.
This scene is probably the most overtly political. Though the 'hidden' of the title alludes to the Paris massacre of 1961, in which approximately 200 pro National Liberation Front Algerians were murdered by the French police, a massacre which had been largely covered up by the French authorities. In one scene, Georges is shown in his television studio supervising the editing of his television programme. He instructs the editor to cut out large chunks of what the guests had been saying, dismissing it as 'too theoretical'. Now, the show cuts from one shot of a guest saying “I think” to a shot of the same guest, a good five minutes later, discussing something completely different. He does not indicate any apprehension at editing the footage in such a way.
Georges is revealed to have a childhood connection with the massacre, as his mother had nearly adopted a young Algerian orphan, Mijad, whose parents were killed in the massacre and who Georges suspects as the sender of the tapes. The adult Mijad is unnervingly played by Maurice Bénichou, who is small, unassuming and looks rather like a cuddly uncle. He lives in a fairly squalid flat, wears a grubby cotton shirt, and is dwarfed by the confident bulk of Georges Laurent. He is instantly sympathetic, although Haneke has set us up to expect a terrorising, feral sort of character. This is where the film is most intelligent: a scene of a 'nightmare' that Georges has shows the young Mijad, a wild eyed, topless boy, bleed copiously at the mouth. The young Georges, the possessor of that vision, is evidently scared of him, and the 'memory' is enough to reduce the adult Georges to a quivering cold sweat over fourty years later. The audience are similarly set up to fear him, but are ultimately on his side as Georges becomes increasingly aggressive and threatening.
I was reduced to tears by the penultimate scene of the film, but, as I was also reduced to tears by the penultimate scene of Ice Age 2 (2006, Carlos Saldanha), this hardly denotes great cinematic achievement. It is shot, like much of the film, from far away, and the camera does not move. The characters are barely distinguishable from each other, but their actions are clear, and the tiny figures' movements tell enough to indicate intense emotion. The sound of birdsong and the sight of a gaggle of chickens in the foreground made it an elaborate, absorbing scene, probably my favourite of the entire film.
After the final credits rolled, I felt, ultimately, as though I had just watched a painstakingly long public information film, warning against the horrors of bourgeois existence. Gone had any of my ambitions to build a successful career, and certainly diminished were my dreams to one day live in a romantic European city.
The ultimate lack of resolution in this film is not, as some critics have suggested, its problem, or indeed its saving grace. What is problematic is that there is so little to commend about the possible resolutions that Haneke presents us with. They are far fetched in a way that is not fitting with the excruciating realism of the rest of the film. I felt cheated, not by the absence of a grand finale, but by the absence of any properly developed avenues of solution. Does Haneke expect his audience to watch the film over and over again, obsessively noting down clues? The only details in the mis-en-scéne I could really catch when I watched it the first time round were endless concrete buildings, uniformly unpleasant interior design and unflattering variations of the same drab coat. I'm not sure my naïve and sunny disposition could withstand a second exposure.
Fim Review by Catherine Deconinck (student on the Transnational Cinemas course in 2012-13, Media Arts, Royal Holloway)
Caché, known in English as Hidden, is a film which justifiably won Austrian director Michael Haneke a best director award at the 2005 Cannes Film festival and was nominated for the Palme d’Or, among numerous other awards and nominations. This is an intriguing and suspenseful thriller, but it is far more than that. This is not a film that satisfies its audience by tidily providing all the answers. Indeed, Hidden delights in making its audience think about it long after it has ended. Although at times frustrating, and sometimes utterly baffling, this is a film that is certainly difficult to simply watch and subsequently forget.
Set in the context of post-colonial France, Hidden tells the story of a family; Georges and Anne Laurent (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) and their twelve year-old son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). Throughout the course of the film, a series of inexplicable and disturbing incidents confront Georges with a dark childhood memory he would rather not acknowledge of an incident linked to the police massacre of Algerian anti-colonialist demonstrators in Paris in October, 1961. Interesting in this respect is the fact that the actor playing Georges, Daniel Auteuil, is himself a French-Algerian. In a scene towards the end of the film, in which Georges is directly confronted about the incident in question, he declares ‘I have nothing to hide’. However, Haneke leads us to believe that this far from the truth. Indeed, as the film progresses we increasingly find ourselves wondering: Exactly what is Georges keeping hidden?
The film opens with husband and wife puzzling over a bizarre video tape they have received, consisting of hours of surveillance footage of the outside of their home. Our very first sight of Georges shows him rushing out into the street and trying to determine exactly where this invisible camera, which will watch the protagonists throughout the film, was positioned. Haneke builds suspense and tension expertly; as more parcels begin to arrive, their content becomes progressively unsettling. This invisible stalker knows where Georges grew up, films private conversations, and accompanies the video footage with disturbing, childlike drawings which trigger vivid childhood memories in Georges, which seem to point to a certain individual named Majid (Maurice Bénichou) who Georges becomes convinced is responsible for this terrorization of his family. With the situation brushed aside by the police, Georges proceeds in an attempt to take matters into his own hands, in the process provoking anger from his wife, Anne, who comes to realize that she is being left in the dark. Her frustration is experienced by the audience, who initially have little more understanding of Georges and his motivations than Anne does. However, Haneke sustains interest by periodically allowing us tantalizing glimpses of Georges’ disturbing flashbacks, which seem to be associated with the mysterious drawings: A drawing of a face covered in blood provokes a vision of a boy seemingly coughing blood. A drawing of a chicken with its throat cut provokes a nightmare in which the same boy cuts a chicken’s head off with an axe before advancing threateningly towards us. Our desire to understand the trauma of Georges’ past becomes stronger and more significant than the desire to know who actually sent the tapes in the first place.
Although Georges is the protagonist, as the film progresses we increasingly feel that we cannot trust him. Even the way in which Georges ruthlessly edits footage for the television show he hosts, manipulating an intellectual discussion about literature as he sees fit, hints at his predisposition for twisting the truth. When he eventually gets around to explaining the childhood incident to Anne, he describes merely a deed he committed at the age of six, but makes absolutely no mention of its profound consequences. We only come to understand the full implications of his deed when Haneke, in the penultimate shot of the film, allows us access to another of George’s dreams, which depicts the outcome of his childhood actions. Thus the intrigue and complexity of this film goes far beyond a simple question of ‘who sent the tapes?’
Nothing is explained straight away and some things are never explained. Perhaps this may irritate and confuse some viewers, but it is precisely where the power of the film lies. The suspense of the film plays on the fear of the unknown. This is what kept me from losing interest in the film; there was always something more that I wanted to know and I still wanted to know more even after the film had ended. By leaving certain things unexplained, Haneke literally leaves his audience ‘wanting more’. Indeed, the final shot of the film provides those who are watching carefully with something that opens up even more questions, rather than providing answers. At a point in the film when we vaguely feel we may have come close to understanding the mystery of who sent the tapes, an unexpectedly shocking and violent moment takes us completely by surprise, and undermines what we believe we may have come to understand. This is an unusual film, and if one approaches it expecting tidy resolutions, then, admittedly, one may feel disappointed. In spite of this, it is difficult to escape from the atmosphere of terror and suspense that the film creates.
Hidden boasts a significant and talented cast. The film stars an award winning and highly-popular actor in France, Daniel Auteuil, winner of the Best Actor Award at the 1996 Cannes film festival. He delivers an excellent performance as a man traumatized by an incident in his past, but not entirely willing to make an effort to come to terms with it. As his wife, Anne, we see Juliette Binoche, an internationally-acclaimed actress who won the Best Supporting Actress Academy award and BAFTA in 1997, and received both BAFTA and Academy award nominations for Best Actress in 2001. Also notable is Annie Giradot’s brief performance as George’s mother. Giradot, who died in 2011, was a multi-award winning actress, who earned three César awards and a BAFTA nomination during her extensive career that began in the 1950s. Those familiar with Haneke’s films will recognise her as the overbearing mother in The Piano Teacher (2001). Not all the cast are well-known. This film also won Walid Afkir a César award in the Most Promising Actor Category for his role as Majid’s son.
The style of this film adds much to its intrigue. The opening shot of the film is a long take of the surveillance footage that the Laurents have just received. However, we are not initially aware of this fact until we hear the disembodied voices of Anne and Georges discussing the footage that we are watching. Subsequently this image is paused and rewound. This sets us up for many more similar instances throughout the film. The use of video footage in Hidden has some similarities to Haneke’s 1992 film, Benny’s Video; another film which opens with video footage that freezes, re-winds, and is replayed in slow-motion. However there are also differences: In Benny’s Video, the video footage generally looks like video footage. In Hidden, the visual distinction becomes far less clear. We cannot always immediately visually distinguish the video footage, meaning that, in some cases, we may be genuinely surprised when footage suddenly pauses and re-winds. In other cases we are presented with long shots from a fixed perspective, which we assume, by virtue of the fact that they mirror the style of the video footage, will turn out to be video footage, but never explicitly do. In another instance, we see a conversation between Georges and Majid taking place and a few scenes later, we witness the same conversation from a different vantage point. The footage turns out to be from the perspective of a hidden camera that we had no idea was there, and is being watched by Anne, who is baffled by her husband’s deceit as she realizes that he had lied to her by concealing this encounter. The video footage includes something that we had not previously been given access to, however: Majid’s reaction after Georges has left the flat. He breaks down in tears. This moment thus forces us to ask which version of the scene we should trust. Indeed, both Majid and his son consistently deny that the video tapes or drawings had anything to do with them. In this confrontation with Majid, we get a hint of the darker side of George’s character. We become aware that in childhood, he did something which deeply damaged Majid, who hints that Georges had been threatening to him as a child. George insists: ‘You were older and stronger than me. I had no choice’. He thus attempts to turn himself into the victim, something he will do throughout the rest of the film. The visual confusion between the action and the video footage creates a tense feeling of uncertainty. It is as though at any time throughout the film, we may be fooled into mistaking the pre-recoded video footage for something that is actually taking place within the narrative, or visa-versa. In other words: in this film we cannot ever trust or be certain of the source of the images presented to us. Furthermore, Haneke refuses to give us the comfort of a musical score. There is no non-diegetic sound in this film, only painful and uncomfortable silences. The absence of a non-diegetic score makes us more aware of the diegetic sounds; at times they even seem amplified. We are acutely aware of every footstep, every slamming shut of a door. We, like the characters, are on edge.
Although this is an intriguing thriller, admittedly it can be confusing and frustrating at times. On a personal note, several viewings were required for me to fully appreciate its ingenuity. This is a film that is fairly challenging and doesn’t offer any clear resolution in return for the attention it demands from its audience. However, this is not to say that the film does not deserve that attention. Hidden is a fascinating study of trauma, memory and guilt and should resonate with any viewer who has a memory, no matter how big or small, that they would rather keep ‘hidden’.
Film Review written by Ryan Gregory (student on the Transnational Cinema Course, 2013-14, Media Arts Department, Royal Holloway
From Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke the filmmaker who brought us such films as Funny Games, comes Hidden, a taut, tense psychological thriller which draws many parallels between itself and Haneke's earlier feature. On the surface we can clearly identify resemblances between the two films in that both the leads in Hidden and Funny Games share alarmingly similar names, Georges and Anne, and Georg and Anna respectively (a trademark of Haneke's work). However the similarities do not end there and in fact run far deeper in the films' construction than may at first be apparent. Funny Games is a film that revolves around two men breaking and entering into a family's home who, on occasion, address the film's audience and through into question the act of spectatorship, whereas Hidden is a very different kind of home invasion movie which still heavily leans on the significance of observation and the role that is played by the audience in the act of viewership.
Hidden is the seemingly straightforward story of a bourgeois French family who are sent a series of tapes displaying video recordings of their home and thus making them fully aware that they are being watched. Yet as we eventually come to learn the narrative is not as clear-cut as the storyline suggests and the film is a demonstration of how an apparently uncomplicated, patriarchal family life can be disrupted and torn apart by the smallest inclination that someone is watching. The film follows Georges Laurent, played by Daniel Auteuil, a literary critic who hosts a recurring review show on French television, his wife Anne, played by Juliette Binoche, a successful book publisher, and their son Pierrot. This comfortable family unit is subsequently threatened when numerous tapes are delivered to their home featuring hours upon hours of footage of the front of their house. These tapes are accompanied by a number of child-like yet deeply unsettling drawings that suggest there may be something much more sinister and untoward at play here. When the police refuse to aid Georges in protecting his family and locating and apprehending this unseen antagonist he is left to his own devices in order to track down and discover the identity of this person for himself. This ultimately leads Georges into unearthing many demons from his past and as a consequence he is forced to confront numerous memories which he would rather forget. Hidden, as well as Haneke himself, have so far garnered much admiration in the filmic community, achieving many sought after accolades such as Best Director, the FIPRESCI Prize, and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes International Film Festival as well as earning a nomination for the festival's most coveted prize the Palme d'Or. The fact that the film has received international backing from 4 different distributors from 4 different countries is yet a further demonstration of just how optimistic many feel towards the level of interest and excellence that this film has to offer.
With Hidden Haneke expertly weaves a dark and twisted yarn which is steeped with intrigue and suspense that very gradually draws you into the lives of the characters that are presented to you in the film and yet is still able to keep you at arm's length leaving you every bit as much an observer as the film's hidden camera operator, in the same that way Funny Games suggested that the audience we every bit as culpable as the assailants in the film. Take for example the character of Georges played superbly by veteran French actor Daniel Auteuil, whose previous work includes the role of Stephane in the Claude Sautet film A Heart In Winter. Auteuil expertly balances every nuance of Georges' character to such an extent that in spite of him not necessarily being the most likable of lead characters we are still at times able to find ourselves sympathising with him and the circumstances in which he has found himself. Yet even with such a vivid portrayal of these facets of Georges' character there is still an ever-present veil of mystery that shrouds our anti-hero and thus we are always fascinated by the upper middle-class Georges, a man who has established a very simple and undemanding life for himself and his family and is still seemingly burdened by a daunting secret which he harbours beyond this life which he has created. Starring opposite Auteuil as Georges' wife is the outstanding Juliette Binoche who perfectly conveys the inner turmoil that Anne faces as she is forced to distinguish for herself the truth and the lies that her husband has told and must confront the very real idea that she does not know as much about who her husband truly is as she had originally thought.
As such not only are we the viewer left in the dark with regards to the reliability of what we are told about the lead characters but also the motivation and the reasoning behind the tapes and the drawings is left obscure as we are given very little indication as to who their sender might be. It is this fear of the unknown that resonates so heavily throughout the course of the film and the uncertainty that surrounds it which drives the narrative forward as Georges strives for some kind of understanding and resolution. And it is here where the brilliance of the film lies. Hidden opens with an extended static shot of the front of the Laurent home yet only later do we come to learn that what we are in fact witnessing is a recording of their house taken by an unknown agent. This indicates to the audience from the very beginning that distinguishing what is real and what is a fabrication within this film is not as easy as it may first appear and instead we may in fact be asked to formulate our own conclusions as to what is actually the truth. Because of this the motivations and the credibility of the characters in the film are immediately thrown into question, how can we be expected to trust what they say when we cannot even distinguish a recorded image in the film from a real one? And Haneke is able to exploit this uncertainty with aplomb. Throughout the narrative run of the film Haneke intricately toys with the idea that the truth can never truly be known, both in terms of plot and theme. As a result many of the narrative strands of the film are left very much up in the air, leaving it up to the audience to formulate their own conclusions with regards to the narrative and, consequently, solidifying the idea that truth can be seen as a subjective interpretation of events unique to each individual. With this the suspense and the tension created in Hidden comes from a very real place as the situation that Georges and his family find themselves in is a situation that could very easily befall anyone of us in our day-to-day lives. In Hidden Haneke is able to exploit the ordinary and the everyday and twist it into a scenario that offers a very authentic sense of malice and menace that translates fully with its audience. It is this coupling between the fear of the familiar and the fear of the unknown which is moulded together so seamlessly in this film that reverberates to such an extent with the viewer. The idea that someone whom you know and who knows you so intimately could exploit that familiarity and use it to torment you and your family and yet leaves no indication as to who they might be and thus throwing into question all of the deepest loyalties that you have held throughout your life is a very unsettling thought indeed. It is also yet further testament to Haneke's talent as a filmmaker that he is able to create such an unnerving and overwhelming sense of dread without the aid of a musical score to accompany his film. Therefore we must commend Michael Haneke and the aesthetic approach that he has adopted for this film. As the surrounding bourgeois environment looms ominously and weighs heavily on the characters and therefore vicariously the viewer as well since we are given the sense that the seemingly low hanging ceilings of the Laurent household lean towards the idea that the walls are closing in around Georges and his family and that they are in actuality prisoners trapped within the confines of their own home.
Therefore in conclusion, Hidden is a exhibition in how blood and guts is not a necessary requirement to create a truly distressing, scary movie and how even the slightest suggestion that somebody is watching you is every bit as disturbing as a severed head. By seemingly saying very little with this film through never offering any clear-cut answers to the questions proposed, Haneke in fact has said a large amount about the act of spectatorship, the fear of the familiar as well as the unknown, and the interpretation of truth and as a result has created a piece of work that is every bit as daring and unsettling as the likes of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.