Film-Forward Review: [CACHÉ (HIDDEN)]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Daniel Auteuil as Georges &
Juliette Binoche as Anne
Photo: Les Films du Losange/Sony Pictures Classics

Directed & Written by: Michael Haneke.
Produced by: Veit Heiduschka & Margaret Menegoz.
Director of Photography: Christian Berger.
Edited by: Michael Hudecek & Nadine Muse.
Released by: Sony Pictures Classics.
Language: French with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: France/Austria/Germany/Italy. 117 min. Rated: R.
With: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Bénichou, Annie Girardot & Lester Makedonsky.

Someone has been sending anonymous videotapes to Georges Laurent and his wife Anne (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche). The first is an unedited two-hour recording of the front of their Paris townhouse, followed by a crayon drawing of a child with bright red blood spurting out of its mouth. When the alarmed couple go to the police, they are told they cannot intercede without evidence of physical harm or an explicit threat. The next tape becomes more personal: it's of Georges' childhood country home.

Sorting out the cryptic clues from yet another video leads Georges to the rundown apartment of Majid (Maurice Bénichou), the son of the Algerian farmhands who had worked for his parents - the first time the two had spoken to each other in 40 years. Majid gently denies any involvement in making or sending the tapes. Disbelieving him, Georges threatens, "Terrorize me and my family and you'll regret it," calling to mind a certain big-stick foreign policy. Even this conversation is videotaped and later sent to Georges. Director Michael Haneke keeps up the ominous tone throughout, as the camera follows Georges and Anne's 12-year-old son at swim practice or in one tense elevator ride with Georges and an unwelcome visitor.

This being a series of long, static wide shots of seemingly everyday occurrences, it is not always clear whether a shot is the director's point of view or from the surveillance camera. (The entire film was shot on digital video.) The uncertainty gives an edge to the monotony and to what otherwise seems detached and impersonal. Though by the end, it will be apparent that Haneke has orchestrated every shot, purposely selecting what details to include, and importantly, to exclude.

Adding to the muted impact is the guarded and angry Georges. Woe to any actor cast opposite Binoche; her vulnerability steals the focus and makes her much more sympathetic when her eyes - in a flash - well up with tears. After Bee Season's Richard Gere, Daniel Auteuil is the second leading man this year to be diminished under her spell.

With minimal editing and no musical score, this is indirectly a thriller, where the past, in this case France's colonial history, haunts Georges and Anne. (Majid's parents were killed by French police during a political protest.) There are also a few brief inserts of an Algerian boy roaming in their home like a ghost, emphasizing this point, but this critique lacks bite and focus. Georges was after all only a child when Majid became orphaned; how much responsibility should a spoiled six-year-old have for Majid's fate? What exactly young Georges did isn't specific, and Georges' feelings of guilt, like the videotapes themselves, are enigmatic. If Haneke's The Piano Teacher featured a riveting, but overwritten central character, his lean script for Caché (Hidden) moves in the opposite direction. Kent Turner
December 21, 2005



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