I managed to break away from the kitchen sink for a few hours on Monday night to see (courtesy of Time Out) a preview screening of Michael Haneke’s excellent new film ‘Hidden’, starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche. The Gallic superstars brilliantly play a husband (Georges) and wife (Anne) – he the host of a TV literary show, she a publishing agent. Their comfortable middle-class lives are disturbed when they start getting strange surveillance videos shot outside their house, accompanied by some strange, quasi-violent childlike drawings.
Who is sending the tapes? It begins to worry them more. Georges follows some leads, and their son goes missing. On this level the movie works well as a slow-burn thriller, which has a nagging tension lasting throughout the film. We see their marriage begin to hit major difficulties, as suspicions and accusations rise to the surface and explode, accompanied by arguments that are wince-inducingly familiar.
On other levels, it’s a film about guilt and people’s unwillingness to admit it. This could stand for national guilt too, especially since a French massacre of Algerians in Paris in 1961 features as a not unimportant element in the film. On another level it could be an attack on the middle class complacency of Georges and Anne, and by inference on the director himself, as he in many ways identifies with Georges.
It also works on a level of toying with our perceptions of film itself. The long static opening shot turns out to be a video tape, and this view (in the early part of the film at least) plays with our perceptions of what we are watching. Is this surveillance footage, or the ‘proper film’? It makes watching the movie a voyeuristic experience and things like jokes at Georges and Anne’s dinner party have us laughing along with the guests guiltily, as if we shouldn’t be intruding. And like Georges, do we use film to escape from guilt, or something else we should be facing up to – retire from the world while the real action should be happening elsewhere?