I'll start out this humble little film review by apologizing for the delay in submission. I said on Saturday that it'd be available "tomorrow", however I found myself succumbing to illness over the last couple of days, which put me behind at school and left me with no time to blog. I'd also like to warn folks in advance that at some stage in this post there may be spoilage of Hidden's narrative details. I'll do my best to avoid giving away too much of the plot, in particular the plot's conclusion, and I'll do this by taking only a cursory look at the storyline.
So, with no further delay allow me to present:
The first striking thing about Michael Haneke’s Hidden, something the viewer becomes aware of from the very first scene, is the effortless way that the director goes about creating multifaceted, multi-leveled, worlds within worlds. The film starts out looking upon the front of a very ordinary, if slightly swanky, inner-city French dwelling. People go about the daily business of normality. A lady exits the house, presumably starting out her working day. The status quo prevails. Or does it? Suddenly our view distorts, static runs across the scene, the action does a double take, and we realize that, through the eyes of the central characters, Georges and Anne Laurent (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche), we've been watching a recording which is now being viewed on a television. Such a beautiful deception of the viewer creates a complex problem from the outset - are we viewing the world through our own eyes, the eyes of the thus far anonymous cameraman, or, the eyes of the central characters currently watching themselves on tape?
In all aspects of the film's narrative there are complex questions being asked. The film within the film (the question of viewer perspective) is only one such question. In fact the levels of allegory and metaphor in Hidden are both so vast and at the same time so simple that any true movie fan will experience the heart-achingly breathless feeling associated with watching a once-in-a-lifetime production. More exposition is required to back up that bold assertion, I know, so let's take a look at the simple storyline, with a view to seeing the not-so-simple big picture.
Georges and Anne live a very comfortable married life in their rather well-protected abode. Georges does a televised lit review and Anne works for a prestigious publishing house. They both appear to be very competent, progressive, enlightened adults. Consider them members of the French intelligentsia. Georges and Anne begin to receive videotaped footage of their neat little life, delivered to their front door. As the deliveries begin to escalate to include crude drawings of a somewhat violent nature, we begin to see a corresponding corrosion of the comfortable assumptions of Georges' and Anne's existence. Georges starts to suspect that he knows who is sending him the tapes, and his quest to find out brings him face to face, as seen through a series of flashbacks, with the dark truth of his past. This is Hidden's surface storyline, and even on its own it is compelling, with a seamless Hitchcockian handling of tension that conjures forth the spirit of Rearview Mirror.
However, to leave Hidden with a surface explanation would be like fucking without that wonderful first kiss - you may have had fun, but you'll have missed the truly important, subtle, and downright beautiful part of the transaction. You see, Georges and Anne are far more than just Georges and Anne. They are also France. They are France's guilt; her short memory; her indifference; her desire to look elsewhere for the source of blame. As Georges twists and turns under the microscope - or, the camera, if you will - a terrible act of personal selfishness becomes a metaphor for a nation's dereliction of its moral responsibilities (note that some knowledge of France's Algerian imperial history will help the viewer be cognizant of this). All this occurs against a backdrop of cinematic disturbance (you'll understand what I'm talking about when you come upon these remarkable editing feats) so sharp, and so unexpected, that the viewer feels stung, as if slapped in the face by the director. It doesn't stop there however, and this is where the movie ascends to the lofty realm reserved for my favorite films. You see, by falling into the director's deliberate trap of looking for the guilty party with Georges we are shown something important about ourselves. When we look without instead of within, desperately searching for a boogeyman that doesn't remind us of ourselves quite so much as Georges and Anne do, the guilty party is revealed as being us.
Rating: Hidden is directed with the restraint of a master. Its actors acquit themselves with aplomb. And its storyline provides infinite avenues of possibility and contemplation. I haven't been as excited as this about a film in a long time. Hidden rates as four Quixotic windmills out of five.