Hide and seek
French mystery’s unorthodox style may frustrate some but reward others
Caché (Hidden), the latest French-language production from Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke, is an oddly entrancing cinematic puzzle—a slyly disturbing sort of mystery story that seems more and more confounding even as it ostensibly sorts itself out on the way to a variety of partial conclusions.
The catalyst for mystery, in this case, is a series of anonymous surveillance-like videotapes delivered to the home of a middle-class married couple. Georges (Daniel Auteuil) is a television literary talk-show host. And Anne (Juliette Binoche) is an editor at a publishing house. Georges in particular feels increasingly threatened by the videotapes, all of which show only the street outside the couple’s comfy-looking home, and by the crude, violent drawings that also begin to turn up.
Georges’ efforts to track down the source of the tapes takes him back into the company of figures from his past, including Majid (Maurice Bénichou), an Algerian whom Georges’ parents once considered adopting, back when both men were still preadolescents. But Georges’ queasily disturbing encounters with the adult Majid, and with the latter’s briskly inquisitive son, tend to raise more questions than they answer.
And Haneke complicates all of it right from the start—partly via the intermittently contradictory behavior of all of the main characters but also through his method of interspersing static surveillance-camera-style shots, only some of which turn out to be from the anonymous videotapes, throughout the action. Pointedly, the film begins and ends with such images, and the inclusion of fragmentary images from dreams and memories contributes further to the process by which the film calls its own images into doubt and draws the viewer into a kind of detective work in which the “evidence” of those images must be re-evaluated repeatedly as the action unfolds.
Haneke’s detours past the conventional signs and expectations of the thriller genre are certain to frustrate some viewers, but Caché is skillfully packed with real rewards for more adventurous audiences. Indeed, you could say that Haneke’s film critiques the stock responses of its audience as well as of its characters and still leaves room for the discovery of more genuinely engaged ways of addressing the issues and dilemmas that emerge from Georges’ story, “hidden” and otherwise.