The subject of the French involvement in the Algerian war is a sensitive one. Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir engaged in long discussions with Franz Fanon about it, some of which went on for over 24 hours. Michael Haneke’s latest film Hidden
is meant to prod the collective guilt about what the wealthy French did, in this case a six-year-old boy, Georges, who harassed and bullied a young Algerian boy, Majid. We discover this late in the film and yet the details are not all there. Georges was jealous of Majid being in their family whose parents were killed in an explosion, and he concocted a story to have the young boy removed from his home for killing a chicken. The memories of the young French boy, are seen through the eyes of a static camera, on a tripod, secure, cowardly, watchful, observing.
Later when Georges grows up played by the magnificent Daniel Auteille, he too is observed like the young Majid --or a conscious presence like him. We never really know.
Georges is a successful talk show host. His guests pontificate about subjects on camera. His wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) works for a successful publisher. The publishing parties are full of talkative guests. Everything seems to work in their lives and exude an aura of emptiness and pretension. Their home is posh, and their living room panel studded with books, videos electronic equipment and a huge flat bed TV. Georges wears jeans that are intentionally bleached to represent overuse, and nice shirts, which expose his overripe stomach that bulges from gourmet food and aged wine. Ann asks for trust, but is supposedly having a clandestine affair with her boss Pierre. Ann and Georges have dinner parties with successful friends who make silly jokes. But when the disclosure of video surveillance comes up, Georges is upset with the others knowing. Video cassettes are sent to the TV station where he works, and eventually a tape discloses where the grown Majid lives. Georges looks him up and threatens him to stop the surveillance, which he claims he knows nothing about.
Haneke has instructed his film team to do long takes, as surveillance cameras can, of the comings and goings on Georges street, the road to Majid's apartment and the school which his son Pierrot attends. Only Pierrot reveals signs of struggling with truth at the conception of a lie, staying overnight at friends to avoid confronting his mother and her adulterous activities with Pierre. His swim teacher tells him he isn't perfect in his moves, and it is his school that is the setting for the last surveillance after Majid is long gone from the picture.
Haneke has made a fine study of guilt and betrayal, and tries to convey what is hidden. Perhaps what is best hidden in the film is the claim that lies are conveyed at 24 frames a second. In this case Haneke tries to explore concealment but winds up trying to make the narrative stretch to fit the episodes of dramatic action that falls flat, and a story that overreaches its intention. This is not a continuous take but an artifice that leaves many questions unanswered.
For Movie Magazine, this is Moira Sullivan, San Francisco
© 2006 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 1/06