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).


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 filming them.

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