Dir: Michael Haneke
Production Companies: A Les Films du Losange / Wega Film / Bavaria Film / BIM Distribuzione
UK Distributor: Artificial Eye Film Company
BBFC: 15 MPAA: R
Hidden is a quietly disturbing film about the denial and guilt built into the fabric of white middle-class French society. It concerns the chain of events which unfold for a bourgeois Parisian family when their lives are intruded on by a series of menacing videotapes, accompanied by childlike but violent drawings. Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteil) is a respected TV intellectual while his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) works as an editor at a successful publishing house.
The long, opening take of the film is from a fixed camera trained on their front door. It is only when we see the lines of a videotape being fast-forwarded that we realise that we are watching footage filmed by a character within the film – the Laurent’s tormentor. (That the identity of this tormentor is hidden provides one of the title’s multiple meanings or points of reference). This gives the audience the uncomfortable sense of surveillance which drives the central narrative, but in fact the film is essentially director Michael Haneke’s visceral reaction to learning about the events of October the 17th 1961.1 On this day, over two hundred Algerian demonstrators were beaten and killed by the police in Paris.2 Although he was born in Austria in 19423, Haneke was horrified that he only learned of the event two years before Hidden was made after watching a documentary on highbrow French TV channel Arte. He asked himself “How is it possible in 1961 to have two hundred people dead in the Seine and no one talks about it for years and years and years?” 4
Thus the narrative of Hidden works as an analogy for this massacre, which also features as historical background. When Georges was six, his parents had live-in hired help from an Algerian couple (“My parents liked them a lot – I guess they were good workers,” reflects Georges after our sympathies have already been removed from him). They went to Paris to demonstrate and never came back, so Georges’ compassionate mother and father decided to adopt their son Majid, who is of a similar age to Georges. Georges, out of jealousy and cunning successfully coerces the traumatised Majid into a violent act, which results in his deportation. Majid is therefore raised in an orphanage and Georges no longer has to share the attention of his parents.
The adult Georges has “a hunch” that Majid is responsible for the tapes – but the way in which this develops acts to delay, frustrate and complicate the viewer’s desire for moral certainty via concrete attribution of blame, while Georges himself is increasingly implicated in the terror of his (at first inexplicable) victimization. Gradually we begin to imagine how this terror may in some way stem from France’s inability to acknowledge the scale of the atrocities committed in the Algerian war.
Hidden is a slow-burning yet brutally concise thriller well served by DP Christian Berger.5 Almost every shot is static, softly lit but clinically framed, while the decision to use HDCAM6 provides for a cold documentary realism. There are no stylistic gimmicks to speak of, not even a score – just a building sense of disquiet, which culminates in a crescendo of violence.
1Hidden: Interview with Michael Haneke – Serge Toubiana (Les Filmes du Losange, 2005 – an extra feature of the Artificial Eye DVD released 2006)
2 Paris, October 17, 1961: 50 Years on From a Dark Day – Tom Begg (http://thinkafricapress.com/algeria/paris-october-17-1961-50-anniversary)
4 Hidden: Interview with Michael Haneke – Serge Toubiana (Les Filmes du Losange, 2005)
The items below were consulted but not directly referenced:
Review: Hidden – Jonathan Romney (Sight & Sound magazine, February 2006)
Review: Hidden – Peter Bradshaw (http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2006/jan/27/2)
Review: Hidden – Deborah Young (http://www.variety.com/awardcentral_review/VE1117927103.html?nav=reviews)