Right from the start of Michael Haneke’s fabulously unsettling, doesn’t-leave-your-head thriller Caché (Hidden), a sense of unidentifiable threat disturbs the Parisian bourgeois comfort of Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche). He’s the host of a popular TV book-chat show (maybe he’s the French Charlie Rose?), she works for a book publisher, they’re the parents of a pleasant 12-year-old son, and they live in the kind of tasteful, book-lined apartment that Woody Allen favors to signify culture, civilization, and stable modern marriage at its most privileged. But someone is watching the family’s every move: Anonymously dispatched surveillance videotapes begin arriving at their doorstep, followed by unsigned, chilling, rudimentary drawings of blood spilling from a child’s mouth.

Who’s peeping? Why? And what does the peeper want? The Austrian filmmaker specializes in making ice-cold, sometimes gratuitously sadistic dramas (The Piano Teacher, Time of the Wolf, Code Unknown) in which complacent middle-class types are spooked out of their smugness by random acts of jolting violence and dislocation. But this time, Haneke controls the spreading psychological terror with a firm hand and a timely subtext that is, in its way, a small-picture mirror of the political despair in Munich: As the dispatches become more personal, Georges pursues the mystery of his tormentor (who seems to know the tormented) with a mounting agitation previously hidden under his facade of bookish refinement. And aspects of his childhood past come to matter all over again.

It’s ironic: In applying his exquisite shock techniques (be prepared to gasp) to a story framed by global politics (the conflict here is of a French-Algerian kind), Haneke may have finally found a psychic unease big enough to deserve the nasty firepower of his technical filmmaking skills. The picture moves with stealth, enjoying its own thriller-ness as hints are laid and mislaid. There’s a sense that Hitchcock is hovering in the background and cheering for Auteuil, who musters all his French superstardom to play a man having his mask of blandness torn off.

Caché (Hidden)
  • Movie
  • 121 minutes