Hidden (Caché) (2005)

Hidden (Caché) first published (in a different version) by EyeforFilm

The opening credits of Michael Haneke‘s Hidden (Caché) appear over a static wide shot of a leafy street. During the course of several minutes, nothing in particular happens: a passerby’s footsteps, and the song of a bird, can be heard; a man exits a house and walks out of shot; and a cyclist speeds through the frame. Yet the suburban reverie is suddenly interrupted by nervous voices, and in a confusing sequence it emerges that all this time we, along with Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne Laurent (Juliette Binoche), have been watching a video of the Laurents’ house, filmed with a hidden camera. It is a trick that will repeat itself several times, investing even the film’s most innocuous images with voyeuristic menace. For as Georges is forced to re-examine his private life from the invasive perspective of an outsider, we cannot be sure whether it is as stalkers or as victims that we too have become implicated in the camera’s probing footage. Here no image, and no act of viewing, seems entirely innocent.   

Georges is the host of a successful literary review show on television, his wife Anne works for an upmarket book publisher, and their 12-year-old son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky) is on the school swim team. Yet the Laurents’ bourgeois existence is thrown into disarray when they receive this mysterious video recording of their house shot secretly from the street outside. Blood-red pictures follow, drawn in a childish hand, as well as an anonymous phone call, and further videos that suggest the sender has an intimate knowledge of Georges’ childhood. In the absence of any clear threat, the police are unable to intervene, so Georges begins to follow up on his own suspicions, while struggling to guard the secrets of his past.

Haneke’s initial allusions to David Lynch’s Lost Highway (with its similarly videotaped couple) serve as a warning that Hidden is going to be no conventional mystery, and viewers searching for straightforward answers to the questions that it raises are likely to be disappointed. Much like the strange joke told by one of the Laurents’ friends at a dinner party, the film’s mystery may in the end be little more than an unnerving shaggy dog story, but Haneke uses it to explore the deep-seated guilt, whether personal or political, that haunts the white Western middle classes, no matter how much they (we?) may try to keep it hidden. The blood on those rough drawings will lead to more bloodshed, both past and present, in the real world, and will culminate in one of the most blankly shocking sequences ever captured on film.

The packages received by Georges, his family and his colleagues may be connected to a half-forgotten act of boyhood selfishness, or they may stem from France’s reluctance to confront its past conduct towards the Algerians; and they may have been sent by any of the film’s characters, including Georges himself, or even by some all-seeing, all-knowing abstraction, like God or the director; but what they represent is Georges’ long suppressed conscience which, once reawakened, will not let him rest easy, as he is confronted with the realisation that he has made his own shabby contribution to all manner of human tragedies, and that no amount of denial or intellectual escapism will erase him from the frame.

Haneke’s unblinking lens exposes all Georges’ dirty secrets to view, but in his desire to hide his less decent side, Georges is not really so very different from any of us, and the film’s final image, a wide shot of young Pierrot and his classmates that is as static and apparently banal as the opening sequence (and that may, for the eagle-eyed, conceal a clue), suggests that the next generation is to be subjected to similar scrutiny, and perhaps also to be found just as wanting. It is a timely reminder that we would all do well to look at ourselves and our small but significant place in the wider sociopolitical context; for we are none of us as invisible as we might imagine, and so very many of us, for all our denials, have blood on our hands.

strap: In Michael Haneke’s accusatory feature, footage from a hidden camera exposes a bourgeois Parisian family man’s guilty place in history

© Anton Bitel