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Friday, April 21, 2006



Rating: * * (out of 5)
Director: Michael Haneke
Running time: 119 minutes
Language: French
Opens April 29
[See Japan Times movie listings]

David Lynch's 1997 film "Lost Highway" began with a creepy premise: A couple start to receive videotapes, left on their doorstep, that show nothing but their house being filmed, straight-on, for hours on end. Soon the tapes include the couple being filmed in their bedroom while they sleep. The sensation of being stalked, for reasons unknown, proved deliriously frightening.

News photo
Juliette Binoche in "Hidden"

Director Michael Haneke's "Hidden" (titled "Kakusareta Kioku" in Japan) borrows this set-up in its entirety, without even having the decency to include a "thank you" to Mr. Lynch.

Haneke gives us a bourgeois couple in Paris, Georges and Anne Laurent (Daniel Auteil and Juliette Binoche), who start to receive tapes of their house being filmed. When Georges examines the camera angle on the tapes, he walks across the street to see where it could have been filmed from. He's stumped, because it appears impossible that someone could film the place without sitting on top of a parked car, which would certainly be noticeable. Later, Georges receives more tapes, and ominous childlike drawings of a bloody chicken head. The tapes show the rural farmhouse where Georges grew up, and then direct him to a flat in an Arab-populated suburb, where Georges sees a figure from his past. Afterward, a tape of Georges inside the flat is delivered to his boss at the TV station where he works as a presenter.

At this point, the viewer starts to get annoyed. Given the way that Haneke lets us see the flat, there is no way someone could have been in there filming from the vantage point seen on the tape. A hidden camera, perhaps? Well, maybe, but how could the stalker know where Georges would be standing, or when to film?

In Lynch's "Lost Highway," we never got a good explanation for the mysterious tapes. But that film's descent into madness and paranoia was such that no explanation was necessary. Lynch made clear, in his parable of devouring female sexuality, that this was not the "real world"; supernatural or hallucinatory explanations fit just fine. "Fight Club" is another good example of a film that moved to delusional logic.

Yet with Haneke, he keeps everything tied so tightly to the "real world" -- in look, in dialogue, and in the use of real events -- that we keep looking for a logical solution to what is being presented as a conventional thriller. Yet the further one gets into the film, the more clear it becomes that no solution is going to be forthcoming.

Don't get me wrong: Frustrating viewer expectations can be a good tactic, provided it's done for a reason. Think of the way you're desperate for Jeremy Davies to save his buddy from the Nazi who's about to stab him in "Saving Private Ryan," or how Lars von Trier suddenly went magic-realist at the end of "Breaking the Waves."

But in Haneke's case, it's like he can't be bothered. He's arrogantly messing with us for being the kind of suckers who expect a coherent story, instead of a vague collection of ideas, or a "meditation" on filming and the image. Critics raised on a diet of Barthes and Derrida will usually swoon for any film with filming in it, but "Blow Up" this is not. "Hidden" is a frustrating, astringent film: It builds the suspense nicely before just letting it dissipate down to nothing. The film actually ends with a long shot of Georges taking a sleeping pill, pulling down all the shades, and going to sleep: The viewer may feel the same. This is followed by a long epilogue of children filing out of school -- any relevance to the story is "hidden."

Haneke does have a coherent theme: Georges' refusal to remember, much less apologize, for his childhood betrayal of a North African boy is clearly meant to mirror France's collective amnesia of what it did in its colonies, and at home; the massacre of Algerian demonstrators in Paris in October 1961 is clearly cited. But why Haneke had to resort to this frustrating video-with-no-sender approach is unclear. It's a metaphor for a bad conscience, but an awkward one.

Haneke, for his part, is clear in his intent to disrupt the viewer; think of the scene in his earlier film, "Funny Games," when one of the serial killers, dissatisfied with the turn of events, picks up a remote and rewinds the film itself, to replay events in his favor. Yes, this is all very Brechtian, and points out poignantly the artifice of film, the manipulative relationship between filmmaker and viewer. The "impossible" camera angles of the videotapes in "Hidden" are a similar device -- they can only have been shot by the filmmaker himself.

This is all well and good if you're into postmodern theory, and want to spin a few riffs off of this very opaque film. If, however, you prefer to lose yourself in a film, to surrender to a shared dream, then you'd do best to skip Haneke.

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