dir: Michael Haneke
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Austrian director Michael Haneke is a cruel man. His career has been devoted to torturing audiences with his diabolical flicks. I don’t mean in the same manner that Uwe Boll and Celine Dion torment audiences. As Haneke gets older, his techniques become more refined, his blunt instruments are replaced with scalpels, and the damage goes deeper.

Hidden focuses on a middle-class, middle-aged French couple who start receiving video tapes of themselves documenting their movements at their flat. As well, they receive harmless but unsettling child-like drawings depicting a person bleeding from the mouth, or a chicken getting its head cut off.

The feel of the film is quite unsettling. Haneke uses a static camera for all the shots, not just the surveillance videos, and generally only moves left or right, to make us unsure if we’re really watching the scene, or watching the surveillance depiction of the scene. The flick also has no musical score or soundtrack, which adds to the oppressive atmosphere.

It might sound like a clinical Dogma-like experiment, but it’s not. The performances from all involved, especially Daniel Auteil and Juliette Binoche, are good, as you would expect from two mainstays of modern French cinema.

But the flick is still cold. As believable as the scenario plays out, even as it becomes steadily less believable, you can’t help but feel distanced from these characters and their mounting terror.

You see, the flick is about a lot of things, but mostly not about its plot. The plot is a mystery, as the couple tries to find out what is going on. But to approach it as a thriller or a crime story would be completely pointless. The flick couldn’t be further from that, especially considering its ending, which I will heroically restrain myself from spoiling right here and now (It was you, I knew it was you, right from the start). No, the flick is really about terrorism, and guilt.

The kind of guilt that weighs heavily on some people, that time and age does not diminish, that booze and rough sex cannot erase.

Such guilt could stay with someone for half a century, or the effects of their actions (or inactions) could negatively effect people ages after they first occurred. Some actions, no matter how innocent seeming, cannot be undone.

But not our main guy Georges (Auteil). He doesn’t feel guilt for anything, and he refuses to let his wife know what might have happened a lifetime ago to provoke someone with bitterness to burn to come after them.

As such, the terrorism takes a relatively benign form, but we know what it stands for. In two different scenes, references to terrorist attacks occur almost in the background or off-screen, but that’s just a reminder.

Georges maintains secrets from his wife Sheryl, I mean Anne (Binoche), she may be keeping secrets from her family, and most of all, the underpinnings of their middle-class existence is meant to be the fundamental lack of trust that exists between them. They don’t go into the reasons why, but we know why. We know why people keep secrets from those closest to them. Why wouldn’t we? We all do it too.

Mostly because if the people around us knew some of the shit we’d gotten up to, not only would they avoid us evermore, everafter, but they’d possibly also try to kill us, chop us into pieces, burn the remnants and then salt the earth around us, just to be sure. Or maybe that’s just me.

So mayhaps, perhaps, a bit of secrecy is warranted every now and then, regardless of the reason. One of the main characters here has a terrible secret, but it doesn’t seem to be bothering them too much. Time will tell what the outcome will be.

The terrorism escalates, but it isn’t someone blowing themselves up to kill American soldiers, Shiites, Sunnis, Sufis or Israelis. Oh no. France has a different legacy, so it is natural that the terrorism is framed in a different manner.

For a flick that sounds so harrowing (which it isn’t), there is only one brief moment of violence, one instantaneous splash of red, and with it, mirroring earlier events, it is also quite shocking. It is well done, true to the overall aesthetic and feel of the flick.

As more of the background is revealed, the path towards the end is not to find an ending, or closure. Oh, no. No. Not for this director, who clearly pisses all over the path of least resistance.

Ambiguity, confusion, abstraction are the order of the day here. A final scene where two characters chat on some steps, which purports to give the game away is anything but a definitive moment. If anything it makes it all the more ambiguous.

As for whether the flick is satisfying on an entertainment level, I could not possible hazard a guess for other people. I found it interesting, and intellectually stimulating, but a cold, blank experience overall. It comes back to being an experiment, a trick played on an audience, though remains somewhat more believable than if the scenario had been used for treacly purposes.

With a similar premise, a different flick could be made with the same elements and a completely different purpose: it could have been a flick about the sins of the past, redemption, understanding between cultures and other kumbayas, my lord, kumbaya.

But that’s not for Haneke, who I guess is probably as misanthropic a director as people used to say Stanley Kubrick was. No, such a set-up is meant to terrorise us even more than he terrorises the middle-class family in the safety and comfort of their wealthy lives.

No, there’s no rest for the wicked, whether on the screen or watching it.

7 times if someone wanted to terrorise me, all they’d have to do is to STOP videotaping me all the time out of 10. I’d wither and die, otherwise, without the attention.

“I can tell you this, you'll never give me a bad conscience” Georges – teach me your trick, Hidden.