Hidden Realities

What we see comes from inside us

Feature by David Winton | 15 Jun 2006
Buying a movie ticket is typically a straightforward experience, and during the film we are entrenched in plot and permanently empathetic with a protagonist. Afterwards, we stop being spectators and remove ourselves from whatever reality we just stepped into, and take a break from our literal Plato's cave. Now this sounds straightforward, but it is precisely the viewing angle that writer/director Michael Haneke urges us to take into account.

With the DVD release of 'Hidden', Haneke delves further into one of his moments of "contradictive reality". Right from the intro, Haneke breaks the 4th wall, with a bland street shot suddenly getting rewound and messed with by an unseen character. With each new shot, the audience gets asked time and again to determine whether they are watching from the videotape or the character's perspective. This both strengthens, and calls into question, the illusion of reality on screen. The viewer must follow the Laurent family, specifically husband Georges (Daniel Autueil) and wife Anne (Juliette Binoche), through this semi-thriller escapade of intense personal guilt seasoned with family strife. Surveillance-style videotapes and child-like bloody drawings get left on the doorstep, clues are tossed up and shot down, and little bitty subplots taper off in eight different directions. The excessive attention to detail and single camera shots refuse anything oh-my-god obvious from popping out of the increasingly hyper-real feel of the film. All the anticipated life-ruining is somehow already past tense or too far off - hinted at in Georges' dreams. Even with most of the facts staring the viewer smack in the face, something feels untold and presses us to search further.

The serene moments come with the "business as usual" tone kept up throughout; even with mounting fear and worry, Georges still must eat, struggling to make a sandwich in one magnificently tense scene. This holding up of appearances and obsession with denial is the heart and soul of 'Hidden'. Ultimately Georges' own past act of cruelty aligns with the Algerian massacre of October 17th, 1961, Paris; bringing this film into context. Haneke has masterfully miniaturized the guilt of a nation's racist repulsion that no one admitted for 40 years.

Haneke's perfectionist style challenges our reactionary role to the film's anxiety, refusing to relinquish control of the image. Similar to Haneke's extraordinarily violent 'Funny Games', the viewer had to accept that at any point the excessive violence on screen would end if they could just walk out of the damn theatre. Sticking this into our very own DVD player, the tendency to rewind and pause to our whim smacks clear into focus, asking if we're any more informed for rewinding at all. Viewing either film and looking for any ultimate theological answer leads you straight back to zilch. The almost medically-precise shooting and writing, excellently exemplified on the DVD's special features (director interview and making-of-featurette), make it very clear Haneke's method is the point. He adds in the interview, reflecting Georges' own selective memory, "We always fill the screen with our own experiences. Ultimately, what we see comes from inside us."
Hidden' is released on June 19. http://www.sonyclassics.com/cache/