Critics must have wet themselves when they saw the start of this movie. It begins with a shot of a residential street in Paris. Only we aren’t watching a street. We are watching two bourgeois Parisians watching a tape of their street being watched. It’s like a goddamn Meaning sandwich with a side-order of Symbolism. Voyeurism! The viewer as voyeur! Oh shudder ye cinema patrons, at your culpability in what is about to unfold! …Sheesh. Gimme a break. That kind of beginning has director Michael Haneke’s fingerprints over it the way blue light lets you know it’s Spielberg. Haneke is the guy who brought you Funny Games and The Piano Teacher. He’s not about to direct a Transformers sequel. But still.
Hidden is about secrets. Daniel Auteuil has a big one. When he was six he did something nasty to his adopted sibling. Forty years later he starts getting video tapes left at his door. The tapes show his house. Someone wants him to know he’s being watched. Or else someone wants him to look at himself. Either way, Auteuil thinks he knows who’s responsible – But he won’t tell his wife. Problems multiply. Auteuil’s son goes missing. Juliette Binoche looks ravishing as she nags Dan. Then something Unbelievably Shocking happens (you’ll know it when it does) and Dan goes to bed. The lost shot is a schoolyard. Two people are talking in the left-hand corner of the frame. Watch closely, ’cause it’s all the resolution you’re gonna get.
Daniel Autueil, as the Embodiment of Moral Lassitude in the movie, is about as French a leading man as seems possible. What is it with French leading men? Do they have to look like they’ve been beaten up? Autueil is forty-something, doughy, curmudgeonly in aspect, gouty (adj. to look like one has gout) and yet – the guy still looks plausible married to Juliette Binoche. Even his character’s job (a presenter of an arts show on French TV) would be unthinkable in Hollywood. Think of the pitch: He’s all man, and he reads books. Dumbfounded studio exec: “He reads wha…. So he’s gay?!” Autueil’s role in Hidden is to be sympathetic to the audience while we watch him lose our sympathy. He does it well. Something about being French helps. No-one does indignation as scathingly as a Frenchman with his dander up.
Juliette Binoche was born to illustrate the word “lovely”. I know she’s getting on, but hell – Binoche. Even her name sounds scrumptious. Although Binoche’s role in Hidden is small, the fact that she looks damn good for 40 enlarges it. She’s playing a little bit meaner than her usual role. But it’s a Michael Haneke movie, so she was never going to be what’s-her-name from Three Colours or poor sad Hana from The English Patient. Binoche is cast because – they had Autueil and they needed someone of equal French movie stature to berate him. When Binoche and Autueil square off it’s like a bunfight at Cahiers du Cinéma. She may not be the focal point of Hidden, but she makes sure we know that she knows what’s up.
The difficulty reviewing this movie is that it’s about secrets. Once you know Autueil’s secret, the movie’s over. True, there are those who will talk about Haneke’s method, and about surveillance. You could look at the movie as a creepy Brechtian exercise in being watched. But isn’t that stuff a bit post-grad for most folks? If you’re French then there’s also stuff about Algeria. But if you just want a thriller – is this one any good? Well, sort of. It builds suspense like crazy and makes dead chickens into the stuff of bad dreams. But does the payoff payoff? I’m not sure. It’s the sort that “sort of” answers everything. I think Haneke trusted to all the implied Meaning in his movie to carry the rest. Without the art-house to watch its back, Hidden might be viewed as horse pucky.