by Jennifer Wallace
Parisian landscapes are frequently manipulated by directors to create a self-contained world for the protagonists. In Michael Haneke’s ‘Hidden’, clues to unravelling the mystery of the film are deeply embedded in its location. Jen Wallace visits the Cité florale to unearth some answers.
If you were to ask people what films they know that are set in Paris, you’d be sure to come up with popular answers such as ‘Amélie’, ‘Paris Je t’aime’ or ‘An American in Paris’. These films represent the typical cliché views of the city: romance, art, strolls along the Seine and quirky characters wielding baguettes and gesticulating wildly.
Lesser known films set in Paris often show a darker side to the city and deal with contemporary issues facing the population, such as immigration, French history, and guilt. These are the topics of the 2005 Haneke film ‘Hidden’, and what is key to understanding this complicated (and at times disturbing) film is the manipulation of the Parisian setting by the director himself.
The opening minutes consist of a static shot of a house, which we assume is taken from a surveillance camera. Later on, tapes are continuously sent to its owners in what seems to be some kind of harassment or blackmail attempt. An interesting bit of information is that this house really does exist in the 13th arrondissement, near the Parc Montsouris in the Cité florale. This is a very wealthy bourgeoisie area, with beautiful houses covered in a variety of flora. It is very quaint, and seems to be quite peaceful. The house itself is set back from the road and covered in ivy, with a large wall around it, making it almost impenetrable. A perfect location for a character who is trying to shut out his own past.
Many questions are raised during the film, the principle one being: who is sending the tapes and how are they filming them? At one point, the protagonist (Georges) steps onto the Rue Des Iris (no coincidence in the connection between an iris, an eye, and a camera lens) and tries to find this mysterious camera. Bizarrely, he is left facing an empty street. The picture below allows you to see what he sees.
There is no way that a surveillance camera could be placed here. The road is empty, there’s nowhere to hide one, and there’s no trace of a camera mounted on the wall or in a car.
One major clue is given to the audience as to who’s behind the tapes. The only camera on that road, filming Georges and his family in his carefully concealed Parisian house, belongs to the director himself.
Hence, the unusual breaking of the cinematic illusion leads to all sorts of debate surrounding the breaking of the fourth wall, as well as the obvious manipulation of the lives of the protagonists by the director. I don’t want to give anything away, but I believe that understanding the location of the film and the particular geography of this small Cité florale can provide a new reading of the film, and suggest a little bit more about the mystery being unravelled.