By the end of Caché (Hidden), we have reached a stage, and a level of understanding, that we would not have predicted at the outset. The film starts with a successful middle-class, and middle-aged couple, Georges and Anne (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche), already slightly unnerved by a videotape they’ve received which consists of footage taken from outside their house, showing Georges leaving for work in the morning. What could it mean? Then they receive another one; and then the threatening pictures start – amateurish drawings of a human figure (a boy?) with blood coming out of his neck. Is their son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky) being targeted? These opening scenes set up questions that we might expect to be answered by the movie’s end. But the film takes us somewhere unexpected – though we might expect as much, given that it’s the new film from writer-director Michael Haneke.

This most rigorous and intellectual of directors has, time and again, taken as his subject the concerns – no, the frailties – that exist beneath the surfaces of ‘ordinary, well-adjusted folk’ – usually, people who actually occupy some privileged position in society. The comfy family in Funny Games, for example, is terrorized by two well-bred psychopaths; Isabelle Huppert’s stern, scholarly spinster in La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher) is almost a case study in hidden neuroses; while the stragglers in the dislocated, post-apocalypse society in Le Temps du Loup (Time of the Wolf) are a demonstration of how anyone might behave if you take away everything from them but the will to survive.

Georges and Anne in Caché have the careers, the lifestyle, and their intellects to fall back on. But once the ordeal has begun, Georges begins to form an idea of who might be responsible, and why – and it’s more than he can handle. Flashbacks to an event from childhood seep into his thoughts like witnesses coming forward from long ago. He finds it surprisingly difficult, however, to share his thoughts with Anne, and so their marriage begins to suffer.

To say much more would run the risk of giving away this movie’s surprises. And that’s important both in generic terms and as a Haneke movie. Something especially appealing about Caché is precisely the way in which Haneke has encased his demanding, and disturbing, themes within the structure of a thriller story. Caché might even feel familiar at first – the videotape scenario is also the start-point of David Lynch’s Lost Highway, for example. Lynch of course also took off in an unexpected direction, and delivered a surreal meditation on identity. Haneke’s project is more immediate and contemporary, a social-problem picture which digs a lot deeper than either a typical ‘message’ movie or a typical thriller. One might think that, for an Austrian director, the surest way to find funding in Europe these days is to make the film in French, and cast actors of the calibre of Auteuil and Binoche – both of whom are very good here, by the way. But Caché isn’t a melange of European compromise and funding opportunity; it is actually a film about the France of today, and really wouldn’t have worked as well in any other country.

Plus: Cinema 16 – American Short Films (Several, USA. Released by Cinema 16): Another instalment of the excellent Cinema 16 series, this time focusing on American short films. The DVD includes the crème de la crème of American cinema, including Gus Van Sant(The Discipline of ED), Todd Solondz (Feelings), Joe Nussbaum (George Lucas in Love) and Mike Mills (Paperboys), a handpicked selection that is a lesson in American cinema. Out now. (AP)

Caché (Hidden) is released on DVD in the UK on 19/06/2006. The extras include an interview with director Michael Haneke.