Hidden splendor

“Cach”Sony Pictures ClassicsWritten and directed by Michael HanekeStarring: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Bnichou, Annie Girardot and Daniel DuvalRated R/121 min.Opened Feb. 10, 2005Four out of four stars

Acting normal when you know that someone is watching you can be next to impossible. That’s why I’ve always been wary of those so-called “reality” TV shows-after all, how legitimate can the conflicts be when you factor in ego, vanity and, of course, the producers’ voracious appetite for ratings?

And then there are Georges and Anne in Michael Haneke’s spellbinding masterpiece, “Cach” (“Hidden,” in English). Someone-they don’t know who-is sending them videotapes of their apartment, shot from outside on the street in plain view for hours at a time. Georges (Daniel Auteuil) sees himself come home from work. He parks right next to the camera’s position-why doesn’t he see it?

Anne (Juliette Binoche) calls the police, but they won’t get involved until the “threats” become harmful. Certainly, harm has been done in one form: Her already unstable marriage to Georges is pushed to the breaking point under this anonymous and seemingly unmotivated scrutiny. They also worry about their 12-year-old son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky), who may or may not also be receiving tapes.

Georges thinks he may know who’s behind the terror, but he refuses to tell Anne-which, understandably, makes her very upset. Is Georges having an affair? Is there some detestable secret in his past that he’d rather hide from her? Anne’s desperate imagination runs wild.

It’s at this point that I must say no more about the plot. It unfolds like a slow burn, punctuated by one of the most shocking moments I’ve seen on-screen in years.

Haneke won the directing prize at Cannes in 2005, an award well deserved. His long takes and deceptively static compositions create a tone of voyeuristic menace that never wavers. We watch pleasant dinner conversations, swim meets, intimate family moments-normal, everyday stuff but shot from oddly observant, wide angle perspectives.

Like, say, the point of view of a hidden video camera.

Every movie is a portal into someone else’s life. The characters on the screen go about their lives, unaware of our presence. “Cach” destroys that ignorance, creating unease between the watchers and those being watched.

The mysterious videotapes destroy the normalcy in Georges and Anne’s marriage-but is that such a great loss when their normalcy is mostly a facade?

Perhaps that’s the whole point.

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