The use of video fragments in Michael Haneke’s Hidden (2005) as narratological interpolations for the subversion of its realism
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Ioannis Tsirkas








As an introduction 
   We could regard a film as the derivative of a succession of images ―accompanied by sound―. While the consecutive partition of an audio file will never conclude to a point not susceptible of any further partition which would comprehend the least acoustic information, in a film, this point is the cinematic frame. However, what comes to the mind of a spectator when he refers to an image of a film is not exactly a frame of it. In opposition with the above mentioned theoretic manner a spectator perceives an image of a film as a product of it which usually stands in his memory as being distracted from it. Michael Haneke seems to force the spectators of his film Hidden (France, 2005) to perceive an image of a film as the ‘product of a process of seeing’ (Grønstad 2012, p.155) too. Furthermore, by making us several times during the film to watch what the heroes in their turn watch, video fragments in particular, he epitomises, in Asbjørn Grønstad’s (2012, p.155) words again, that ‘[s]howing seeing is different from showing what the act of seeing shows’. On this essay I will examine the significance of Haneke’s choice the video fragments of Hidden to be, with their violently threatening function within the diegetic universe of the film, not aesthetically discernible in its narration and, moreover, the ways by which their function is being effected as regards the diegetic universe of it and the director’s latent aspect over the nature of its realism, especially through his self-referentiality in it.

The video fragments as intercalary narratives and their validating insubstantiality
   A considerable part of Hidden is made of video images, or, more precisely, of images which are intended to be considered as such by the spectator. These video fragments, in the most cases ―if not all―, when they appear on screen it is because some of the heroes are also confronting them, something that we ‘only retrospectively learn’ (Peucker 2010, p.28). When these two parallel processes take place, namely when the spectators watch video fragments which are simultaneously watched by the ‘diegetic viewers’ (Peucker 2010, p.28) (with)in the film, and especially when this second process is not indicated ―for example, when we do not listen at least to their voices commenting on what appears on screen―, Haneke, by choosing to show what is being seen and not just the act of seeing ―in a way, by dislodging on these moments his heroes from the metafilmic diegetic surface of what appears on screen―, impels us to judge the content of these ―consisted entirely of video fragments― intra-narratives together with their heroes.
   However, the significance of the demands of Hidden as a filmic text in reference with the perception of its diegetic reality by the spectators are not restricted to the above-mentioned, but also on the way by which these intercalative video fragments are being constructed within its narration. As Philippe Met (2012, p.168) points out, there is a ‘confusing overlap of, or instability between, diegetic video images and (meta)film narrative’ in the film. Actually, the one enters into the other in a kaleidoscopic manner with result not to be clear when the on screen proceedings belong to the main narration of the film ―which has to be considered as composed of everything that does not mark a video fragment― and when to its intra-diegetic one ―namely to the one composed of video fragments―. As Ricardo Domizio (2011, p.239) underlines, ‘in Hidden this second-order representation is not “framed” within the master-representation’ and ‘the issue of the image is not a narrative “device” but is rather subsumed into the fabric of the film’. Indeed, the video fragments do not simply interfere in an explicit way in the metafilmic whole of the film, but knowingly form a hidden ―on a great extent― part of it, challenging thus the spectator’s perception on how far they affirm the realism of the film or overturn it by undermining it.
   Furthermore, as Catherine Wheatley (2009, p.161) mentions, in Hidden ―with all its shots filmed exclusively with high definition cameras and by Haneke’s playful intention to confuse the spectators with their inability to distinguish the video sequences from the filmic reality― ‘the line is blurred not only between film and life, but between whether we are seeing an image in the process of being played back’. The result is that either by giving emphasis to the distinction between video and film image or by merging them metalinguistically into an ontological continuum, Haneke by ‘[d]rawing attention to the materiality of the film reveals the image as image in its manipulative power’ (Speck 2010, p.135). Both the film and the video are nothing but means of record, not of the reality, but of the impression of points which belong to it. So, the video fragments within Hidden are effects of points belonging to the total points that (deter)mine them as records of (re)presentations. Haneke thus reminds us constantly that everything considered as real within a fictional diegesis is real only in reference with its context which is as allied as its involving subtexts ―video fragments in the case of Hidden― with the real world to which they are both ―text and sub-texts― referring. Even if the diegetic universe of a film is constructed in an as much more realistic way as possible, it still forms a construction of reality, namely an imitation of it through its representation. Haneke’s film due to its playfulness concerning its structure can be read as a meditation onto its structure itself. As Mattias Frey (2006, p.34) explains Hidden ‘plays a funny game of legibility and illegibility’ with the use of the digital footage as a kind of ‘desubstantiated image’[1]. Indeed the video fragments are proved to be insubstantial exactly in terms of their validating character to their diegetic reality. However, it would be fair to claim that it is Haneke himself who plays this funny game. As Oliver C. Speck (2011, p.56) highlights, the extensively ‘artificial character’ of the film cannot but be interdependent with Haneke’s self-referentiality and what I am going to analyse now is exactly this self-referentiality and its interdependence with the realism of the film.

Intervening to the real which remains hidden, or, Recording as an act of violence
   As Lisa Coulthard observes (2011, p.181) it is usual for Haneke to have the spectator to ‘witness acts and struggle to find a clear and explanatory narrative’. This is becoming epitomised in Hidden, since the constant subversions confuse until the end the spectator and additionally, even if the end of the film finds him more convergent to certain assumptions about the plot, the doubt does not only remain about which is the preponderant one but also about the meaning of the proceedings. Kevin L. Stoehr (2011, p.41), by making reference to one of the main patterns of the film, the factor of violence, supports that it is ‘most terrifying, not merely when it is unexpected and almost casual, but when it reveals that human reason has been completely rejected’. Hidden does not simply escape from this canon, since the cause of violence[2] epitomizes the above, granted that the main cause of violence from which the main heroes suffer[3] is caused not merely by a human factor but comes up as corollary of a game, played by a subject out of the diegetic universe into which they belong. Arne Koch (2010, p.91) writes about the protagonists that they ‘simply do not understand why they play the games they play’, since the unexpected and unexplained until the end of the film events ‘appear to occur for the sake of the game’ (p.95). This game cannot but be conducted by Haneke himself. The reality of his heroes is the reality into which he places them and hence he imposes to them. So, when the director accedes that ‘the game is no longer played within or against others, but solely for its own sake’ (Koch 2010, p.95) he demonstrates in the most explicit way that what matters is not the answers but the questions themselves. Haneke poses the questions for the sake of questioning, since the reason for making a film resides in its purpose. Having unfolded his reflections on violence inasmuch it has become one of his main motives, in Hidden he chooses to feature himself as the source of violence and his heroes’ misadventures, a source that ―only― seen out of their own diegetic universe does not lack of meaning or reasoning. Haneke makes his heroes suffer in order to pose us questions as regards the nature of violence, of reality and their associations, when questions themselves in a ―diegetic― world that lacks of meaning are nothing but an ultimate action of violence in its reality.
   Haneke becomes a hero of the film. Considering Brigitte Peucker’s (2010, p.29) observation that ‘the surveillance tapes taken from the rue des Iris are technically continues with the other images of the film, likewise shot in high-definition format’ and Mattias Frey’s (2006, p.33) one that ‘the tapes that Georges receives are on multiple occasions filmed from positions impossible within the diegesis’ along with my arguments that will follow the reason why I agree with Arne Koch’s (2010, p.91) assumption that ‘the only (technically possible) hand behind the mysterious videos can be Haneke’s own’ will be explained. So, in the first sequence, Haneke confuses us in an attempt to make us to assume that the video fragments that Georges and Anne (Juliette Binoche) watch is nothing but a static shot of the film which belongs to its main narrative. The shot, as all the other corresponding ones of the film, is nevertheless aesthetically identical ―as I have already mentioned― with all those which belong to its main narrative. The factors that render them as such is the intra-diegetic reference to them and aesthetically the edit ―for instance fast-forward, rewind, freeze-frame― from the film’s protagonists. Also, in the second video fragment, which is only later revealed to be one more, and once again is a static shot of their house, as Phoebe Jaspe (2013, p.3) marks, when Georges approaches it with his car, his lights make the shadow of a camera to appear ―its easel is visible too― on a bush (Figure 1). The assumption that it is just a mistake is contradicted when we later watch the particular fragment being rewinded and then left to be played normally exactly until this point, resulting to the shadow’s appearance for a second time on screen. It can be clearly seen again exactly after the normal playing of the tape (Figure 2), confirming not only Haneke’s intention to reveal its presence but also the spectator’s ability to detect it, especially when he will watch the film ―just like the protagonists watch the videotape― in his home using the same technic in order to solve the mystery by handling the same means of record. In this way the immaterial truth concerning the narrative proceedings of the film is being connected with the materiality of its possible mediums.


Figure 1
Figure 2

   Later on, apart from the appearance of static and long shots that disorientate the suspicious spectator who believes that they are video fragments, it happens the camera in the sequence with Georges coming out of his house and entering his car with his son (Lester Majedonsky) to remain static for a long time at first, as if we had had one more video fragment, and move at last following the heroes, subverting thus our assumptions. Something similar takes place later in the sequence after the end of Georges’s broadcast. The camera follows him when he moves at the studio, confusing the spectator and reminding thus a posed by the director himself contradiction that aims at his constantly keeping in a state of tense anticipation and alertness for both the proceedings and the way they are being presented. Furthermore, when we watch a shot from inside a car which later gets changed ―this succession of shots should be regarded as purposively confusing since it is the only one within a video sequence in the whole film― to something that seems to be the point-of-view shot of somebody walking along a corridor, we find ourselves deceived when we realize that it is a video fragment too. However, the above-mentioned editing from the dispatcher of the video-tapes can be also considered that it draws the director himself.
   The role of the director as dispatcher of the videotapes is nevertheless not limited to his playfulness against the spectator through the video sequences. The dispatcher sends also paintings to Georges and his son which are equally important for the unfoldment of the plot. Furthermore, it is worthy of notice that until the end the mystery remains unsolved since nobody of the suspected ones is directly indicated. Another example is that we do not know why Majid committed such an unexpected, graphic and unreasonable suicide. According to my claim that the plot is essentially caused by an intra-diegetic process between Haneke and Georges ―which stands as an emotionally violent game for the latter, apparently necessary to recall his hidden in his memory guiltiness―, namely that the hidden evil of Hidden is Haneke himself who creeps into the narrative of his film, Majid’s unexpected suicide maybe constitutes a simple choice for the narrative’s playful development. In this perspective, even the last static shot, in which we watch Majid’s son (Walid Afkir) having a friendly conversation with Pierrot outside of his school and gives the impression of a new video fragment gives us the right to assume that it thereby is rendered to give the impression of the next videotape that Georges will receive. His supposed confusion gives prominence to Haneke’s ―funny― game.

Instead of conclusions: Inhering video fragments to the digital aesthetic
   Haneke, by shooting the whole film in high definition, minimized in it ‘any textual distinctions between the covertly filmed videotapes and the other images sequences’ (Wheatley 2011, p.15) folding thus ‘the difference of film and video into one image’ (Speck 2011, p.58). This choice, seems wittingly to aim at the destabilization of the spectators (Frey 2010, p.162) and, as Tarja Laine (2011, p.248) mentions, offers ‘an effect of doubt regarding the status of the image, especially in its flowing together of the diegesis and the non-diegesis’. We are obliged not only to reflect upon the truth or not of what is being recorded inside the diegetic universe, but upon its forcefulness as regards the imperilment of the whole film by us in reference with its realism.
   The ambiguity whether what we watch is a video fragment or not is inaugurated by the opening sequence where the nature of what is being watched is disclosed to the spectator after around two minutes and a half. Max Silverman (2013, p.136) points out that ‘there is no context which would help to orient us’ but ‘simply an anxiety that the image is not self-sufficient and that its truth can only be understood in what lies outside it’. During the whole film we shall learn many other times behindhand that what we thought as part of its main narrative was nothing but a video fragment. This continuous until the end playfulness of Haneke which always reminds us that his film is a construction by focusing on the unreliability of what is presented as real within its diegetic world and only there ―with reference to the various mechanisms that give prominence to the intendance of his playfulness― does not simply prevent us from getting identified with the heroes of the film. These heroes feel threatened at first by the ostensibly unjustifiable fact that somebody forced them to watch themselves being recorded. Taking advantage of their reaction, Haneke calls us to reflect on the causation of the film, which in its turn constitutes a record of its protagonists.


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[1] Mattias Frey in his original text uses the term of ‘desubstantiated image’ making reference to D. N. Rodowick’s theory of desubstantiation as it is presented in the book of the latter Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy After the New Media ―see Redowick 2001 in the list of references―. I underline this wanting to avoid any confusion with my term of ‘validating insubstantiality’ which is used on this essay by me concerning exclusively the video fragments in Hidden.
[2] At least to the particular excessive grade as it was perfectly illustrated by the literally unexplainable suicide of Majid (Maurice Bénichou).
[3] And not the primary one that is owing to the revenging motives about actions well hidden in the memory of Georges (Daniel Auteuil).


List of references:
  • Coulthard, Lisa (2011) ‘Interrogating the Obscene: Extremism and Michael Haneke’, in Tanya Horeck and Tina Kendall (eds.) The New Extremism in Cinema: From France to Europe. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 180-191.
  • Domizio, Ricardo (2011) ‘Digital Image and the “Schizophrenic” Image: The Case of Michael Haneke’s Hidden’, in Ben McCann and David Sorfa (eds.) The Cinema of Michael Haneke. London: Wallflower Press, pp. 237-246.
  • Frey, Mattias (2006) Benny’s Video, Caché, and the Desubstantiated Image’, Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, 47(2), pp. 30-36.
  • ––––– (2010) ‘The Message and the Medium: Haneke’s Film Theory and Digital Praxis’, in Brian Price and John David Rhodes (eds.) On Michael Haneke. Detroit: Wayne State University, pp. 153-165.
  • Grønstad, Asbjørn (2012) Screening the Unwatchable: Spaces of Negation in Post-Millennial Art Cinema. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Japse, Phoebe (2013) ‘Narrative meanings and implicit themes in Haneke’s film Cache (2005)’, Enquiry, 4 [Online]. Available at: http://research.shu.ac.uk/ aces/enquiry/index.php/enquiry/ article/view/40 (Accessed: 18 November 2015).
  • Koch, Arne (2010) ‘(Virtual) Reality Games: Michael Haneke as Auteur and Stalker’, KulturPoetic, 10(1), pp. 85-98.
  • Laine, Tarja (2011) ‘Hidden Shame Exposed: Hidden and the Spectator’, in Ben McCann and David Sorfa (eds.) The Cinema of Michael Haneke. London: Wallflower Press, pp. 247-255.
  • Met, Philippe (2012) ‘The Iceman Cometh (To a Theater near You): Michael Haneke’s Glaciation Trilogy’, in Claire Perkins and Constantine Verevis (eds.) Film Trilogies: New Critical Approaches. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 164-178.
  • Peucker, Brigitte (2010) ‘Games Haneke Plays: Reality and Performance’, in Brian Price and John David Rhodes (eds.) On Michael Haneke. Detroit: Wayne State University, pp. 15-33.
  • Rodowick, D.N. (2011) Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy after the New Media. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Silverman, Max (2013) Palimpsestic Memory: The Holocaust and Colonialism in French and Francophone Fiction and Film. Oxford: Berghahn Books.
  • Speck, Oliver C. (2010) Funny Frames: The Filmic Concepts of Michael Haneke. London: Continuum.
  • ––––– (2011) ‘Thinking the Event: The Virtual in Michael Haneke’s Films’, in Ben McCann and David Sofa (eds.) The Cinema of Michael Haneke. London: Wallflower Press, pp. 49-64.
  • Stoehr, Kevin L. (2011) ‘Michael Haneke and the Consequences of Radical Freedom’, in Jean-Pierre Boulé and Enda McCaffrey (eds.) Existentialism and Contemporary Cinema: A Sartrean Perspective. Oxford: Berghan Books, pp. 33-45.
  • Wheatley, Catherine (2009) Michael Haneke’s Cinema: The Ethic of the Image. Oxford: Bergahn Books.
  • ––––– (2011) Caché. London: Palgrave MacMillan.

List of multimedia references:
  • Hidden (2005) Directed by Michael Haneke [DVD]. UK: Artificial Eye. 

Acknowledgment
   Ι would like to express my sincere thanks to Christos Angelakopoulos for his diligent philological support.

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