An alternative interpretation of the tapes is that they are part of Haneke’s exploration of the relationship between spectator and cinema, his attempt to disrupt the comfortable pleasures offered by mainstream film. From the first shot of the film the viewer is unclear as to the status of what they are seeing, which, added to the undermining of the conventional thriller plot, creates doubt and unease. This is apparent in the deliberate confusion as to what the viewer is watching; rather than making the surveillance tapes stylistically distinct they are shot on the same HD video as the rest of the film. The opening shot is a long take of a quiet suburban street, the camera is static, and there is only diegetic sound. The occasional pedestrian walks past, Anne leaves the apartment, a cyclist ride by, nothing happens. After nearly three minutes voices are heard talking over the shot, the exchange ‘Well?’, ‘nothing’ adding to the viewer’s confusion. A cut changes the perspective of the scene and Georges and Anne reappear in the street and discuss where the person making the film might have stood. This revelation to the audience that they had been watching a tape with Anne and Georges rather than a conventional establishing shot of a film, is further complicated when the scene cuts back to the earlier street scene which is now being fast-forwarded. This reference to the materiality of the film itself is typical of a modernist artist reminding the viewer that the art form they’re looking at is a construction with ideologies and points of view – not simply a reflection of reality. The confusion for the audience over the status of what is being seen occurs several times throughout the film. The first shot of the exterior of the son’s school appears initially to be part of a surveillance tape but isn’t (this throws the meaning of the final shots of the film which are also of the school further into doubt), a point of view shot from within a car driving along country roads seems to be ‘real’ but is abruptly fast forwarded revealing it to be a tape. A discussion which is part of Georges’ arts programme is suddenly frozen; rather than viewing the live discussion the viewer is watching the editing process during post-production and here a contributor is going to be cut for becoming too theoretical.
The questioning of the status of what is being shown soon raises pertinent questions about the nature of film-making itself. To attempt to distinguish whether each scene is part of a surveillance tape or the film itself (Hidden) demonstrates the power images have over the audience; the easy belief that what is being shown is real, when of course both the surveillance tapes and the people who are watching them in the film are equally constructed.
Hidden constantly foregrounds the way in which society constructs images as a way of imposing ideas and values; Georges is a broadcaster transmitting a partial cultural view, censoring the guest who is – ironically – discussing the way in which Rimbaud’s sister censored the poet’s work after his death, Anne is a publisher, the unknown producer of the surveillance tapes is also a filmmaker, turning the scrutiny on the people who are usually in control of the image construction. These ideas lead to another hypothesis as to the maker and sender of the tapes; they are produced and sent by Haneke himself, reminding the viewer from the very first shot that cinema should be a site of discussion and argument and not a comforting representation of reality.
Sarah Casey Benyahia
1. In this context Hidden can be seen as part of a group of films which, for the first time, began to represent Algerian-French history and the war of independence: Days of Glory (Buchareb, 2006), The Colonel (Herbiet, 2006), Intimate Enemies (Emilio-Siri, 2007), Outside the Law (Bouchareb, 2010).
Cast and Crew:
[Country: France, Austria, Germany, Italy, USA. Production Company: Les Films du Losange, Wega Film, Bavaria Film, BIM Distribuzione. Director and Screenwriter: Michael Haneke. Producer: Veit Heiduschka. Cinematographer: Christian Berger. Music: Jean Paul Bugel. Editors: Michael Hudecek, Nadine Muse. Cast: Daniel Auteuil (Georges Laurent), Juliette Binoche (Anne Laurent), Maurice Bénichou (Majid).]
Michael Haneke, ‘Film als Katharsis’ in Francesco Bono (ed.), Austria (in)felix: zum österreichischem Film der 80er Jahre, Graz, Blimp, 1992, p. 89.
Cited in Mattias Frey, ‘Michael Haneke’ in Great Directors, Issue 28, Senses of Cinema. Available at www.sensesofcinema.com/2003/greatdirectors/haneke-2/ (accessed 23 November 2012).
Oliver Speck, Funny Frames: The Filmic Concepts of Michael Haneke, London, Continuum, 2010.
Catherine Wheatley, Michael Haneke’s Cinema: The Ethic of the Image (Film Europa), New York, Berghahn Books, 2009.
Robin Wood, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: Micheal Haneke’s Cache’, Arts Forum, Jan 2006.
The Routledge Encyclopedia of Films, Edited by Sarah Barrow, Sabine Haenni and John White, first published in 2015.