REVIEW: DVD Release: Hidden

Film: Hidden
Release date: 19th June 2006
Certificate: 15
Running time: 113 mins
Director: Michael Haneke
Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Benichou, Annie Girardot, Bernard Le Coq
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Studio: Artificial Eye
Format: DVD
Country: France

Being spied on as we go about our daily lives is virtually impossible to avoid in CCTV-covered cities across the globe, but in Hidden, director Michael Haneke’s 2005 thriller, surveillance is given a far more ominous dimension.

Georges and Anne Laurent are a married upper-middle class couple who enjoy a comfortable, if slightly muted existence in the stylishly understated, book-lined Parisian home they share with their 12-year-old son Pierrot.

Both Georges and Anne have good jobs that they seem to enjoy: Georges is the host of a TV chat show about literature and Anne works for a publisher. They have dinner parties with friends, and tend to the needs of their slightly sullen son, but we see their routine being shattered right at the beginning of the film, when they watch and try to make sense of a video that has been anonymously left at their front door.

The video, shot from an adjacent street, shows them leaving their home on their way to work. Who sent it and why is a mystery, but as further videos and disturbing drawings begin to appear, Georges is forced to look back to his childhood, and an episode from his past that he would have preferred to remain hidden.

At first, Georges is unwilling to share his suspicions about a young Algerian boy who his parents adopted then later sent away, and his relationship with his wife suffers as a result, but as events unfold and edge beyond his control, his past comes messily spilling out, with terrible results…

There is no neat conclusion to the events that unfold in Hidden, and Haneke deliberately avoids providing the audience with a definite answer as to who was responsible for the videos and drawings. Whether this makes him a bold provocateur or a perverse fraud is a matter that has divided many viewers and critics, but what is certain is that Haneke enjoys unsettling audience expectations, and disobeying narrative conventions.

Frustrating, thought-provoking or both, Hidden is not afraid to touch a few raw nerves in its treatment of everything from colonialism and marital fidelity to childhood innocence and guilt. If there was a Hollywood remake of Hidden, and Haneke chose not to direct to it himself (as he did in the case of Funny Games), such topics would no doubt be dealt with in a far less ambiguous, open-ended way, but that is not the case here.

Haneke seems to revel in the insecurity and lack of certainty that plagues his characters, and he makes sure that we, as viewers, share in this unease. At times, you are not even sure whether what you are watching is part of the main body of the film or a section of one of the surveillance tapes. The two blur into one another, and we can’t help but be drawn into this voyeuristic, deeply unsettling world, wanting to see and know more.

Daniel Auteuil (Georges) and Juliette Binoche (Anne) are both exceptional in their roles, each expertly drawing out the nuances in their respective characters. It’s difficult not to sympathise with Georges as his cool facade unravels under the pressure, but, at the same time, you question who the real Georges is, as he begins to show increased aggression and an inability to own up to his past mistakes. Anne, too, elicits conflicting responses in the way she responds to the growing turmoil: at times vulnerable and confused, at others tetchy and self-centred.

Lester Makedonsky’s Pierrot, likeable yet prone to typical preteen sulkiness, is cleverly kept on the margins and we’re never quite sure what he makes of his parents. Does the Eminem poster in his room signal a rejection of parental control, or is he just another well-to-do kid going through growing pains?

There are significant stretches of the film where not a lot really happens, and the tone is one of detachment, as though what is happening to Georges and Anne is more of a rude inconvenience than a crisis in the making, but this only serves to make the film’s shocking moments all the more powerful and emotionally jarring.

The final scene, a static long shot showing pupils leaving a school, is quietly devastating in the way it echoes the earlier surveillance footage and suggests new, profoundly disturbing possibilities. If you don’t watch very carefully, you may miss this final sucker punch, and the full, quietly chilling effect of Hidden may remain exactly that.

Austrian director Michael Haneke has stated that he uses his films to pose questions rather than provide answers, and it is this approach that makes Hidden such a compelling and memorable viewing experience. JG


  1. Haneke has done some brilliant movies, most recently The White Ribbon, but this is by far his best. Wonderful performances, and a real challenge for the viewer to sink their teeth into

  2. As with all of Haneke's films this is hard work and very frustrating with no resolutions, but you have to keep watching!!!!!

  3. a rare auteur in today's film industry. hidden like everyone of his films is hard going but totally worth it