Reviewed by: Chris

A conventional psychological thriller, a social polemic, or a serious work of art? To fully realise even one of these is an achievement, but to realise all three in a single piece of cinema is remarkable.

On the most obvious level, Hidden is a thriller which, in traditional European fashion, gets under your skin in spite of long shots when nothing happens (nevertheless, it is not for the squeamish). Also in typical European fashion, it requires you to concentrate a little more than with the average Hollywood offering in order to interpret and understand it.

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George (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche) are a typical well-to-do Parisienne family. George is a TV chat show host for a literary discussion programme. His wife and adolescent son are normal and easy to identify with. The acting is such that we see them as real people, almost as if in a documentary.

The couple are watching a video. We don't realise this at first. It's simply a film of the outside of their house, nothing more. Then the telltale lines on the screen appear as the tape is rewound and the camera pans back. There is nothing threatening about it except that they do not know who made it - it was just delivered on the doorstep.

Further videos arrive - still nothing threatening (the police refuse to do anything), but we not only sense the couple's mounting panic, we become part of it. Nothing in Michael Haneke's film so far justifies the sense of horror, which we share with George and Anne, but it is intense and very real. George tries to make connections from the clues so far. He feels extremely threatened. He accuses someone from his childhood. The accused is convincing in his protestations of innocence. In this climate of fear and reprisal things can only get worse.

On a second level, Hidden can be taken as both social comment on the tensions between bourgeois France and the ethnic Algerians that inhabit the ghettoes. France is unable to accept, or own up to her responsibility for the treatment of these large minorities, either in the past or the present. As a dynamic that is almost microcosmic, it reaches out to a wider world of have and have-nots, where those with power refuse to acknowledge faults because there is no-one to make them say sorry. This is conveyed in the film from wealthy modern areas to pitiful suburbs, subtle overlays with background TV programmes mentioning Iraq (British involvement, of course, not French) and the symbolic way the characters are presented, enabling them to be easily transposed to analogous settings. It is a stark condemnation of how the powerful, with suppressed guilt and a trigger-happy tendency to make accusations, cause more damage than is necessary because of such shortcomings.

On the third level, as a work of art, Hidden is much more insidious. Writer/director Haneke uses the camera as a tool between him and the audience in such a way that it is impossible to remain a passive participant. The type of audience that the film will appeal to (educated, affluent) is also the one that will be most unsettled. Haneke is doing much more than telling a story. He is using the power of images to interact with his audience in a way that they are not fully aware of - until later analysis.

Then there is the question of who made the tapes. If you really enjoyed the film but struggle with the answer, which turns out to be different, depending on whether you view it as a psychological thriller, or a polemic/work-of-art, you can go to the official website (saves me revealing it!), at which point you will probably want to watch it again to see the details you missed.

Hidden is a remarkably accomplished work. It is difficult to think of Binoche as Binoche, or Auteuil as Auteuil, rather than the characters they play. In terms of directorial technique, it will no doubt be an inspiration to filmmakers for years to come. In terms of films that can alter the way we view the world it is first class, all the more so for the fact that its message is indirect (or hidden) rather than displayed ostentatiously up front.

Working out the superficial answer to the puzzle is all the more satisfying after piecing the clues together yourself. Working out the deeper sense, persuades by allowing the viewer to come to an undeniable realisation.

Are you still paying attention? Don't fall asleep in this movie . . .

Reviewed on: 25 Feb 2006
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What dark secrets lie behind the mysterious video stalker?
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Read more Hidden reviews:

Anton Bitel ****1/2
Angus Wolfe Murray ***

Director: Michael Haneke

Writer: Michael Haneke

Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Benichou, Annie Girardot, Bernard Le Coq, Walid Afkir, Lester Makedonsky, Daniel Duval, Aissa Maiga, Nathalie Richard, Denis Podalydes

Year: 2005

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France, Austria, Germany, Italy


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