Everybody loves to label a taut suspense story like Caché (Hidden) ''Hitchcockian.'' But while this film shares themes with and certainly deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as near-perfect thrillers like Rear Window or Vertigo, I'm not so sure old Alfred ever tapped into the contemporary global psyche so particularly and breathtakingly as director Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher) does here.
The subtitled, French-language movie centers on a Parisian couple (Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil) whose well-to-do existence and stable, if dull, marriage are upended when they start receiving creepy anonymous videotapes and drawings in the mail. Yet, as Haneke says in one of the DVD's bonus features, ''this movie is a tale of morality dealing with how one lives with guilt,'' and it achieves a far richer depth after said turn of events re-opens one of the protagonists' old wounds, reminding him of his nation's, and his own, mistreatment of Algerian emigres. It's a theme made vividly relevant when you consider that Caché comes at a time when Western nations are occupying vast stretches of the Middle East, cultural strife has caused riots in France, racism has bubbled under the World Cup headlines, and U.S. border security is a top issue of the day. And Haneke's refusal to answer all of our questions or to make everything clear in the end thus forcing us to engage in his haunting movie even after we hit stop is as commendable as it is unusual.
A technicality kept Caché from being nominated for a much-deserved Best Foreign Language Film Oscar last year, but the real oversight was Auteuil, a huge star in France, who infuses a magnificent blend of shame, defiance, horror, and sadness in his character. Rarely does a performance or film come along that's so unmistakably honest and real.
EXTRAS In some ways, I'd almost rather there weren't any bonus features on this disc. After all, the film does such a wonderful job of evoking mystery and posing unanswerable questions that it seems insincere for Haneke to pull back the curtain, so to speak, and solve some of his riddles or discuss certain themes in supplementary materials. Isn't his movie asking us to make up our own minds? Ah, so be it. A half-hour documentary goes through the making-of motions, though it does provide an interesting glimpse into just how Haneke shot those strange anonymous videos. He also discusses the picture in a separate 20-minute interview. ''A lot of people who go to the cinema don't want this sort of thing,'' he says. ''This can be a problem for those who are educated in mainstream cinema and who want some guarantee that, at the end of the film, they can leave and forget what they have seen.'' Caché you'll remember.