Written by: John White on April 21st, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: France/ Austria / Germany / Italy, 2005
Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Daniel Auteil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Bénichou,Annie Girardot, Bernard Le Coq, Walid Afkir, Lester Makedonsky
DVD released: June 19th, 2006
Approximate running time: 113 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1/2.0
DVD Release: Artificial Eye
Region Coding: Region 2 Pal
Retail Price: £19.99
Georges and Anne are well off. He presents a literary programme on TV and she works for a publisher, they have a son, Pierrot. When they start to receive videos of their house, they become unnerved. When a third video turns up, it shows a car traveling to the farm which Georges grew up on. Georges starts to remember visions of a decapitated chicken from his childhood on the farm and Majid, the child his parents adopted then rejected. When a further tape turns up showing a journey to a flat in Paris, Georges follows the route and meets Majid there in a squalid flat. Majid claims he knows nothing about the tape and Georges threatens him. Days later after Georges has lied to Anne about his visit she is sent a tape of his meeting with Majid. When Pierrot stays out one night, they think that the stalking has got worse and claimed a victim and get Majid and his son arrested. Their son returns and Majid rings Georges offering to tell him the truth about the tapes. Georges agrees to see him and the truth about Majid’s rejection by Georges’ parents comes out.
Michael Haneke is an Austrian director who has worked extensively in the theatre and since 1989 in cinema. His films have attracted controversy and he has attained a reputation for seeking truth regardless of social constraints and critical expectation. Hidden is a film about what is unseen, ignored, obfuscated, lied about and forgotten. It is about how people live with what they don’t see, particularly what they don’t choose to see. Hidden deals with this idea in the context of a family with parallels to political history and the Iraq War. Hidden is not judgemental and it deliberately refuses to show the viewer enough so that they can sit in judgement, it also ends on a completely unexplained shot which the viewer is encouraged to read however they like. Throughout Hidden, the viewer is constantly asked to recognise that they are watching – whether this is through watching the characters watch the TV, or watching the videos sent by the stalker
Films about stalkers are seriously conservative affairs. They usually deal with how the family, and by implication society, deals with threats to it’s status and happiness. They are about the basic blinkered human need to protect what is ours from any threat. Hidden takes a very different approach to this question by making the stalking more about perceived threat than actuality. The family being stalked are not angels and the potential stalkers are far from devils. But above all, in Hidden everyone could be hiding something so they don’t lose everything.
The stalking of Georges’ family is inspired by lies he told as a six year old when his parents adopted Majid and his place in their household was under threat. Georges’ lies and his parents’ belief in him lead to Majid being put in an orphanage and being condemned to a poor education and poverty throughout his life. Georges excuses these lies by saying he was only a child, but like his suspicions towards an older humbled Majid they have catastrophic results. Majid’s son asks Georges “how does it feel to have a man’s life on your conscience” and Georges’ response is to go to bed with some aspirin.
This lack of transparent truth is represented throughout the characters. Anne is accused of infidelity by her son and despite her protestations we are not sure of her innocence, and Georges’ accusations towards Majid and his son are far from proved or disproved. Even Georges’ lies can be excused or explained, and his fears are very understandable. The stalking of his family and his fear of the threat of Majid destroying his world could be real especially against the backdrop of politics of an Arab backlash for the Iraq war or the massacre of Majid’s parents. This social atmosphere is palpable throughout with the rich white family against the poor Arab dispossessed.
In recent years, I have thought the best of new releases have been overwhelmingly Asian but Hidden has opened my eyes. Michael Haneke’s film is the best film released this year and is an instant classic. A film that reflects a world of the everyday hiding muddy truths, unclear conflicts and meaningless deaths. Truly exceptional.
Artificial Eye present Hidden with a spotless, sharp anamorphic transfer which I believe is at the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The sound is very good with no distortion, hiss or crackling. The sound comes in a fine 5.1 or ordinary stereo. The English subtitles are first class.
The extras include a trailer, a making of featurette featuring Auteil, Haneke and Binoche, and filmographies. Best of all is a fine interview with Haneke talking about the film. It is nice to listen to a director so open to readings of his film. Haneke seems to positively revel in the audience seeing his films in different ways and is not precious about his own vision.
The thriller is the most interesting genre of movies. It constantly updates itself and reflects changes in the world around it. Michael Haneke has made a thriller for the post 9/11 world, a thriller where the only truth is that we do anything to protect what we have and forget or forgive what we have done. This is fine disc of a great, great film.
For more information about Hidden visit Artificial Eye here.