Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche play a middle-aged, successful literary couple in Michael Haneke's discomfiting drama "Hidden." Auteuil has a television talk show. Binoche is an editor at an important publishing house. They have attractive, well-educated friends; they throw dinner parties. It's easy to imagine that they have shared happy times together in their well appointed Parisian home with their awkward, amiable adolescent son--enjoying the fruits of their well-earned success.
Of course, we do not get to see simple, easy moments of domesticity. Haneke only shows tension--and not the ordinary sort of friction between loved ones. From the start, the Laurents are being oddly terrorized. It's a slow growing, subtle sort of terror campaign that begins with only slightly menacing video tapes that show the couple's front door. Cars come and go, occasional pedestrians shuffle by. Often, as in life, nothing happens at all. This nothingness is almost maddening; something menacing lurks and threatens to manifest further. So in their banal (if stylish) existence, the Laurents wait for the next video tape. A spaghetti dinner cannot be enjoyed.
Soon, disturbing postcards begin to arrive, along with new videos that again show little, a slow moving scene from a car window: only the landscape changes. Georges (Auteil) recognizes the roads leading to his family's country home. He puts together the pieces in his head and begins to suspect the only person who might want to ruin him.
Haneke takes his time in "Hidden." The pace is terrifically slow. The filmmaker, who only last year provided a devastating portrait of post-apocalyptic life in "Time of the Wolf," knowingly plays with the unease of both his protagonists and his audience. As the hints continue to come, the Laurents grow more and more frightened. The same is true for the audience, who finds itself in a the position similar to that of the wife, trapped in darkness, not knowing the whole story that Georges (Auteuil) had always meant to leave buried.
"Hidden" is as frightening as any horror film, where the blood hungry murderer threatens to appear at any moment, wielding a knife or an axe or any other instrument of mayhem and murder. In an interview, Haneke stated that he wanted to make a film about guilt. He could not have been more successful. Well-mannered George's childhood secret is connected to an historical event, when a large number of Algerians protesting their conditions were drowned in Paris, in 1961. Georges is an arrogant man, but he is also recognizable, and likeable. As events unfold and Georges begins to act badly, Binoche's need (and ours) to like and accept him further complicates an already difficult film.