Hidden (Cache) Michael Haneke - France - 2005: Daniel Auteil; Juliette Binoche
Viewed 12 Feb 2006: Tyneside Cinema: Ticket price £6-00
It’s all in the frame……
Michael Haneka’s film is a forensic investigation beneath the skin of bourgeois life, a surgical incision into the hidden inner body that is history. The thesis of the film is simple: the life of a wealthy bourgeois couple, Pierre and Anne, both working in the media, is disturbed after a nondescript video showing surveillance of their apartment, is anonymously sent to them. As the archetypal successful couple, Juliet Binoche and Daniel Auteil sleepwalk through a series of locations and situations in which events finally focus attention back to the 1960’s and the personal consequences of the massacre of hundreds of Algerians by the riot police in Paris, during a peaceful demonstration for Algerian independence.
In effect, ‘Hidden’ is a mirror in which past present and future become lucidly clear. Haneka makes a pun out of ‘time’ by using the nature of video to fuse the past and the present. As the successful couple watch images of the past(surveillance of their flat) colonise their present, they experience a growing sense of disconcertment and powerlessness. They feel increasing insecurity with the arrival of each tape whose implication one of them Pierre gradually understands. The intrusion of the videos into their life, into the sanctuary of their home, is immediately perceived as an implied subjective menace. It smashes their immunity from the middle class time machine in particular in relation to the future of their 12 year old son whose failure to return home from school one day unleashes venomous effects of their middle class insecurity. But it is the idea of the bourgeois immunity from the effects of time which Haneke lovingly builds into the expressive features of his film - the camera placement and movement, the framing and the sets and settings. In its structure ‘Hidden’ becomes a metaphysical statement in which the ideas of luminance, mirror imaging and eternal recurrence are intrinsic to the action.
This is a film of interiors, interior states of mind and the interiors of buildings that are both reflections and projections of those states of mind. The interior of Pierre and Anne’s apartment is an envelope that contains them and their world. The rooms - with the exception of the bedroom have a theatrical quality. It’s space that yearns to be filled by gesture and ritual. The kitchen, the TV area, the dining area, all assemblages of a taste spectrum, have a quality similar to that of church interiors. Untouched by time these spaces yearn to be filled with the timeless ritual of bourgeois good manners and those outward markers of bourgeois identity, success and positive self presentation. The TV area is wonderfully realised with a wide screen monitor set into the gargantuan book case(sic). The visual effect is that of a baroque altar piece, with the TV taking the place of the tabernacle. The TV is a portal through which the outside world is filtered in. The outside world, which exists as a sort of permanently breaking present, is also a construct of power in which Pierre, as a TV celebrity, is complicit. But this TV, this item of baroquerie, has its normal substantive function subverted by the tape sent to Pierre and Anne. This tape is raw footage. It’s an unfiltered communication in which nothing in particular happens but in which the exterior of their apartment is depicted as if under surveillance in a mirror. In present time Pierre and Anne watch the exterior of their apartment as it was in the past when some one was watching them. Past and present conflate at the altar but the couple have no ritual for dealing with this situation. They can only bring to it their angst and the state of mind bordering on panic that is the mark of the insecurity of those who are used to living in immunity from the consequences of time. Fear. Pierre and Ana’s apartment is a reflection of the immunity that is the greatest of the privileges of the bourgeoisie. The kitchen, the dining table, the study area, the TV altar are assemblages born of a religious-like belief that time can be tamed by the knowledge of how to organise space and objects. When this fails the theatre of time collapses and the naked impulses of aggressive and violent control are revealed beneath the surface. The bedroom is the exception to the way in which space is depicted in ‘Hidden’. The bedroom is dark in this bourgeois household, a place of sleep and sex. It’s a backstage area where the actors can leave the theatre of life and step out of their costumes and roles. They can be themselves if there is any self to be. In the encompassing darkness of the bedroom Pierre dissolves into a puddle of moral turpitude before the questioning of his wife about the death of Majid. In the penultimate shot in the gloom of the bedroom he undresses and his body is without any covering. It is a shock to see this man without clothes. All through the film he has been covered less by his elegant casual clothes than by his denial of time. Then suddenly he is before us: naked. For a moment no longer possessing the conceit of individuality now an archetypal sinner seeking the forgetful embrace of sleep. Pierre’s flesh liquefies as he melts between the bed sheets seeking the narcotic of oblivion. Seeking the escape from time. Like all of us.
Haneke’s camera watches his actors. ‘Hidden’ is mainly filmed with long shots and simple camera movements. Mostly the camera is still: there is movement through frame and where there is camera movement it is typically a pan(though there are some tracks). The still distant camera and the simple pans, which build the story out of action in the shot, demand that the viewers become an audience. If this were a Hollywood film, the shooting would be all tricksy weird angled shots(meaningless but visually arresting) tracking shots, point of view shots: all the usual camera stunts to heighten and intensify visual tension as a psychological state so the film would take on the character of the thriller. But ‘Hidden’ is about watching and the audience are the watchers. Their emotions are not wildly manipulated at every opportunity, pulled every which way in the course of the film: for the most part they are simply given the wide picture and allowed to construct out of the events the story that they see. The simplicity of the framing also allows Haneke to work the film as an objective mirror and insinuate the idea and structure of time, past present and future, as it permeates the film, the sets, the TV, the video, the dream. Time as expressed in ‘Hidden’ becomes an objectivity that the viewers can apprehend - not a subjectivity, the mere function of a state of mind or a point of view.
The framing of ‘Hidden’ is also critical to its expressive intent. The luminance, the source and direction of light in the framing of the shots in Hidden, layer into the film a metaphysical dimension. The scenes comprise a mixture of artificial and natural light, but for those scenes in which there is a natural source of light, it always feels that when Pierre in shot that he is occluding the light. When Pierre is present he blocks the light. He prevents the inflow of light, the streaming intensity of grace illuminating the point that he occupies. In Bresson’s films characters are in light. Pierre is a reagent turning light to darkness. A black hole. And in order that we may see this the more clearly, the framing of ‘Hidden’ is kept very clear and clean. The shots are composed within uncluttered clean frame lines, giving the film a mirror like quality and telling the viewer that one thing you see if you look in the mirror is yourself. Unless you are tricksy and angle the plane of the glass away from yourself
The ‘hidden’ of the film’s title points to what lies beyond the mist of forgetfulness that shrouds the legacy of wealth that determines our way of life in the West. The amoral haze, in particular in relation to the West’s colonial past, that defines our life styles, our personal relations, our structures of work and play, our architecture, our homes. This is a film about us.
The strength of Haneke’s film is that it is never polemic. Theme is negotiated through the personal, through strips of action in which the connections between the forces that mould our responses and the way in which we react to events in our life are sketched out and finally connected to the direct issue of personal honesty. As Majid’s son says to Pierre after Majid has committed suicide in Pierre’s presence, its about being able to look at yourself in the mirror with good conscience. But Pierre doesn’t look in the mirror. He chooses unconsciousness: takes a couple of pills. When he wakes up it will probably be too late for him to remember. But there are others who will not forget, even if they do forgive.