Caché (Hidden) written and directed by Michael Haneke, with Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Bénichou and Annie Girardot. 117 minutes. A Sony Classics/Mongrel Media release. For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Subtitled. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Michael Haneke's Caché (Hidden) opens with a shot of a house in a quiet Paris street as the credits write themselves across the screen. There's birdsong. Then there's a glitch and the image winds back. Eventually, you realize you're looking at a tape along with the people who live in the house. They've no idea who shot it.
Haneke, who enjoys pummelling the European bourgeoisie in films like Time Of The Wolf, The Seventh Continent and Code Inconnu, here takes a subtler approach in a film so laden with ambiguities that you can spend days arguing about it.
Georges and Anne Laurent (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) are a self-described "bobo" couple bourgeois-bohemians. She's in publishing, he hosts a popular book discussion TV show. (I can assure those used to North American television that such things do exist.)
They live with their son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky), in the 13th arrondissement, the district that contains Paris's Chinatown. They have a ton of books and some exquisitely designed appliances check out that elaborately engineered lamp on Georges's desk.
Out of nowhere, someone starts sending them videos and drawings. No, Haneke has not remade Lost Highway.
From these fragments of harassment, Georges begins to realize that there's only one possible instigator, someone he knew as a child. I'm trying not to give away too much, because much of the film's considerable power comes from the fact that the audience is looking through Georges's eyes. It's a mystery that may or may not be solved during the film.
Haneke is not known for subtlety. Funny Games brutalizes its audience, and The Piano Teacher uses Elfriede Jelinek's source material to unleash Isabelle Huppert's inner demons.
Hidden is more interesting, because it keeps drawing you in and then pulling the rug out from under you. Just when you think you know what's going on, it turns out to be something else.
Auteuil and Binoche, who feel like a married couple, give superb performances. This is the second time they've played partners, and they're scheduled to do so again later this year. The unexpected intrusion into their characters' lives drives them apart rather than bringing them together, and they develop some serious trust issues.
Some things to think about: Is Pierre a family friend of Anne's or an ex-lover? If the one character who knew enough to create the tapes didn't create them, as he claims, then who did? And what is happening in the final shot? Haneke plants a final land mine while most people are putting on their coats.
Hidden arrives festooned with major prizes: Haneke won best director and the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Festival, and the film won four European Film Awards for best picture, director, actor and editing. Haneke may pick up prizes regularly on the festival circuit, but Hidden is exceptional.
In its odd way, it's Haneke's version of a crowd-pleaser, if the crowd is the European chatterati. Auteuil's character is a perfectly reasonable representative of that class, and I suspect most of them would like to be married to Binoche.
European intellectuals enjoy seeing themselves on film as much as anyone else, with their book-filled yet austere apartments, and their worst nightmare is that some terrible, half-remembered "crime" from childhood will jump up and bite them, ruining their smug sense of well-being.
The harassment directed at Georges and Anne induces in them a perfect sense of free-floating uneast. They never receive an overt threat but are so terrified that when their son fails to come home one night, they assume, although there's no evidence to suggest it, he's been kidnapped.
Some have seen Hidden, with its French-Algerian characters, as a story about the ghost of European colonialism, but that's a facile reading of a film that's much more about the barely acknowledged insecurities of a privileged class.
The repressed can return in any number of forms. Making the antagonists Arabs is a convenience, and hits the couple right in their liberalism, but you could make them French working-class to much the same effect, though that strategy wouldn't have the same contemporary resonance.