Many things are hidden in the layers of this brilliantly clever mystery from Michael Haneke: the truth, the point of view from which the story is told, the political references and, most intriguingly, the ending. Which is not to say you can’t find them. But you’ll have to work hard, for this is no lie-back-and-think-of-France film: it demands quite overtly that the viewer be attentive.
The core story follows Georges, a literary critic and host of a TV show that is recorded and edited before going to air. Georges controls the editing process, ensuring that content not suitable is eliminated. When he and his wife Anne start to receive unsolicited video recordings of the front of their house, the terrible suggestion that there may be something hidden on the unedited tape, sets off a train of events that puts increasing pressure on Georges to reveal a long forgotten episode of his past.
With instantly recognizable echoes of Hitchcock’s Rear Window with its references to viewers and viewing, its long motionless shots, and its confident steady pacing, we follow Georges, Anne and their son as they deal with the menace of a man’s history. It is a film about how we edit and forget in order to spare our conscience.
The politics behind the film are those of the French-Algerian relationship. Whilst there is only a passing reference in the story, it’s useful to know that in 1961, French authorities caused the deaths of up to 200 Algerians protesting for independence in Paris. The massacre was covered up until a few years ago when a new generation was able to acknowledge the event. Much of the symbolism of the film points in this direction.
Juliet Binoche is superb as the compassionate woman trying to understand her husband’s demons whilst dealing with his lack of faith in her, and Daneil Auteil is compelling as the man who cannot acknowledge his past – not because he thinks it hasn’t happened, but because he believes it wasn’t significant.
A final word: in one scene of Georges’ TV show, there is an announcement made to those on set that they should stay in their seats until the credits have finished. Follow this advice. It might give you a slight edge in the post-film analysis that is bound to follow a viewing of this gripping and highly recommended film.