Friday, 10 February 2006

Hidden (aka Cache) (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

French film directed by Michael Haneke. Tricky to write about because I don't want to give too much away. A married couple begin to receive video tapes from a hidden camera filming the outside of their house. The husband, Georges (Daniel Auteuil), presents a book discussion programme on TV; the wife, Anne (Juliette Binoche), works for a publisher. They have a twelve-year-old son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). The videos are wrapped in child-like drawings of a head or a chicken bleeding from the neck. They don't know who is sending the tapes - is it one of Georges's fanclub? Is it a schoolboy prank? Is it someone from Georges's past?

The film starts unusually with the credits appearing gradually in small print as if typed up, and remaining onscreen until their end. In the background is a stationary shot of the exterior of a townhouse in close streets. It becomes apparent that we are watching one of these surveillance tapes. There are a number of other slow-developing shots like this throughout the film, which at first appear like establishing shots or continuity editing (a man's-eye-view behind the wheel of a driving car; an exterior shot of the house from another angle). They are allowed to run, however, leaving the viewer plenty of time to think about and explore the full canvas of the mis-en-scene.

There is an unsettling, voyeuristic feel to the whole thing (as in Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960)). We see a scene from one angle, then we see it again - shot from the same take, from an apparently hidden camera. We sympathize with the protagonists and share in their confusion, but begin to doubt their moral impunity, when we learn more about their past lives and see them react to their stressful situation. They are a very affluent couple, but their lives are hectic, we learn; they rarely see each other because they work so hard.

The film's title refers to these hidden cameras (there is a remarkbly shot scene in a lift with internal mirrors, where, with great skill, the camera remains hidden, unreflected in the mirror), but also to these dirty secrets we have in our pasts and try to forget because they provoke painful memories. It also invokes the hidden meaning of the film, which is never fully revealed. It plays with the conventions of the thriller genre, making the viewer play along complicitly, trying to complete the gnomon of meaning; but, as in Memento, we aren't given enough information to be sure what's going on, to know if we can trust our (or the characters') hunches.

A delightfully morally ambiguous film, which, in refreshing, if unnerving style, allows no sense of closure. We are not privvy to all that the characters say or think - we are kept at a distance - in long shot - of what is going on, hidden inside. Also a stark indictment of the countless hidden truths (or lies) we tell one another every day. I'd like to see this film again to note down each time a lie is told. I'm sure there's close to one in every scene. Makes one wary, in a healthy way, of the syntax of cinema that we so often take for granted.

Nugget: Not so much a whodunnit as a whoisdoingit.

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