Author: Catherine Wheatley
Michael Haneke is one of those few directors who come along every now and then whose films deserve closer study. Even those who are not usually attracted to foreign language or arthouse films find the likes of a Michael Haneke or earlier filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman a compelling discovery. Caché (better known to English language audiences as Hidden and as a result will be referred to as that title here in this review) was made in 2005 and perplexed the audience at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. What perplexed the Cannes audience and many others since is the closing four minute shot from a car simply showing students leaving a school/college as traffic moves by; it is then followed by the closing credits with only the sound of the traffic and distant voices of the students playing on the soundtrack. This puzzled audiences at the time and has continued to do so ever since its release, therefore, this becomes the book’s focus for author Catherine Wheatley as she tries to interpret the ending of the film. What Wheatley does is state that figures appearing in the distance and chatting together are the sons of two of the films main protagonists. Having seen this film a few times myself this was not something I spotted (this would be one of the disadvantages of seeing the film on the small screen) and armed with this knowledge makes much more sense. It doesn’t necessarily provide any more answers to the film or unravel the mystery any further but did invite me into trusting Wheatley’s almost frame by frame dissection of Haneke’s film would help to make the film less opaque and aid the viewer to appreciate and understand the film a little better.
The opening shots of Hidden show a non-descript suburban Parisian street in what is clearly a nice part of town. A short while later the credits roll up as almost like telegraph messages and eventually fill the screen. But it is the next shot which surprises when the camera pans away to show us that we are witnessing a video cassette being watched on a TV screen with a couple talking. The couple in question are Georges and Anne Laurent (played by French big names Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche). It would seem that they have been sent a video tape of their front door with no little in the way of any other clues on the tape; we even see Georges leaving the house and walking past the unseen person filming; they even rewind it to see if there are any other clues on it. But there is nothing. This is not the first time they have sent such mysterious messages. They have also received bloody child-like pictures through the post clearly aimed as a threat against Georges. While this might seem innocuous there is also a heavy sense of threat behind these mysterious messages. Georges, presenter of a TV arts show begins to sense the messages and threats that are coming his way are connected to his childhood past, especially when we see in a dream sequence Georges as a boy witnessing an Algerian boy called Majid who lived on their farm cutting off the head of a chicken that resulted in Georges spreading lies and Majid being taken away. Georges eventually tracks the now aged Majid to a poor quarter and he seems surprised by Georges’s arrival and on the second visit Majid slits his throat in front of him. The rest of the film fails to give many more clues to the mystery but what we do see is that Georges is unrepentant about his actions, fails to see that he has something to do with Majid being taken away or how dishonesty is affecting his relationship with his wife.
Haneke is a clever filmmaker and there is, as with his other films many layers to his film. There is also a political element to making his film in France and Wheatley does a good job in contextualising the film with France’s political past: the beheading of the chicken representing the symbol of France or the constant mentioning of the name Marianne (another symbol of France). But of course, as the author makes pains to point out to just focus on this is to do a disservice to the director. Haneke had originally intended to set the film in his native Austria, but guilt about Austria’s Nazi past would seem too much of a cliché. Haneke is quoted as saying that almost any country could have a collective guilt about its past; France has plenty that is often suppressed and its handling of Algerians after that country gained its independence in the early sixties is the root of Auteuil representing that suppressed guilt. It is towards the end of her book that Wheatley goes into these areas of the film having studied the different meanings behind each scene of the film while avoiding a step by step approach to the films narrative.
True, it is a controversial film and deserves its places among the canon of what is in my view one of the best films made in the last 20 years. Outside of Haneke’s other films Wheatley makes little mention of any other films any other context of the films contempories or forerunners. I think this example demonstrates how Haneke stands out as a director and I think its inclusion in this series of books is telling and prophetic with regards to both the legacy and instant classic status this film has earned and deservedly so.