16 January 2007

Hidden - film review

Hidden - Click for details and orders at Amazon.co.uk Hidden is not a film for those who desire non stop dramatic action; it has a deliberately slow pace, though one to which the viewer soon adapts. Nor does it use the usual techniques of a cinema thriller - yet it is a thriller and includes one horrific episode which shocks to the core. Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil) is a successful, if somewhat smug television personality who presents a popular book programme. He mixes with authors and publishers and lives in middle class comfort with his son and wife Anne (Juliette Binoche). Suddenly he receives a videotape of his own house taken from the outside followed by posted drawings - a series of unsettling images of a child’s face smeared blood red. He tries to find out what they might signify but his efforts fail.

He reports the events to the police but they cannot assist until a crime has been committed. As he seeks to follow up the clues which he sees in the videos - suggesting these unwanted items are related to events in his childhood - more things are delivered: videos, drawings, postcards as well as weird phone calls to his wife.

Both husband and wife begin to feel the pressure of this malign observation and family life suffers accordingly. Eventually, following his clues, he goes to see someone whom he suspects is the source of the campaign: Majid, the son of an Algerian worker who once worked on his father's farm but now lives in a scruffy flat in a run down part of the city.

Majid is modest, mild and friendly; he denies any connection with the videos and other articles sent, but Georges is accusing and angry. Soon afterwards, with no evidence of how it could have been made, a video of this meeting itself is also sent to Georges as well as a copy to his television producer. The tension in the film begins to mount until that transfixing moment of horror - which has stunned cinema audiences - presages some kind of resolution to the narrative. However, many loose ends are left untied and at the end, the film offers no firm conclusion.

Some analyses of Hidden have compared it to Coppola's The Conversation, a commentary on a society which has become subject to multifarious surveillance via CCTV, satellite, bugs and so forth; but it is more subtly layered than this. Its pervasive theme of deep-rooted societal and institutional racism against North African immigrants perhaps makes it more like Paul Haggis's Crash, that penetrating dissection of Californian racism.

It is also about the insecurities and shameful secrets which often lie beneath the veneer of success. Georges seems to have everything to which any aspiring person might aspire - success, family, status, mand oney. But reaching back into the past we see that it has been acquired at the expense of others. A reckoning of sorts finds its way to him in a fashion which disrupts his comfortable life and truly humbles him.

Amongst the superb ensemble acting, Auteuil gives a wonderfully sensitive performance as the character forced ultimately to suffer on the rack of his childhood cruelties. This is a film which disturbs and stays in one's thoughts for long after the credits (allegedly containing clues to the those untied loose ends) have rolled down. This is a film not to miss.

© Bill Jones 2007

Michael Haneke, Hidden (Caché) 2005

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