HIDDEN LOVE (L'amour caché) D+
Belgium Italy Luxembourg (90 mi) 2007 d: Alessandro Capone
This is as gloomy a film as you’re ever likely to see, filled with hatred and self-loathing, as Isabelle Huppert as Danielle narrates her experiences as a mother who from the outset never connects to her child, Sophie, as she watches others hover around her baby expressing delight, but she is genuinely disinterested. While one can imagine what it must have been like to be raised by an indifferent mother, that’s not where this film is going. Instead it connects with Huppert after her third suicide attempt, where she’s wracked with guilt to the point where she hates herself, but also expresses nothing but contempt for her now grown 23-year old child (Mélanie Laurent), who she insists is plotting against her, convinced that her daughter cleverly changes and manipulates memories as it suits her in order to place her in a better position. Much of the time is spent in therapy sessions with her psychiatrist, Greta Scacchi, who initially does all the talking, urging Danielle to write down her thoughts, as she refuses to utter a word. However, by the time the smallest bit of progress has been made, Sophie arrives on the scene, storming into the doctor’s office claiming her mother is up to her theatrics again, that she may fool the doctor into believing she’s sick, but really she’s just a cold-hearted mother who has no love to give. As it turns out, both are right, as they genuinely hate one another, and both exude contemptible behavior towards one another that is not how they act or behave with any other living soul. The two are simply joined at the hip in a life cycle of hatred.
Sophie’s only concern is that the hospital is too expensive, insisting she be moved to another that is more affordable. Danielle, of course, sees this as spite, and their fixated view of continually holding each other in contempt is leaving the psychiatrist baffled, as despite every attempt at finding a middle ground, there is no end to the demonstrative accusations. Adding to this one-dimensional picture of dispassion is an original piano soundtrack that morbidly repeats itself endlessly throughout the entire picture, where there is rarely any use of natural sound, instead it is that same monotonous music that drones on and undercuts any emotional connection to what’s happening onscreen. But since we’re given such a clinical perspective from the outset, occasionally showing a few brief flashbacks, the overall tone of the film is one of utter detachment, where the audience could really care less about either one of them. Despite the first rate cast, this is a seriously unengaging effort, where the director has no sense of how to use the performances, allowing them to perform for nothing, as their talents are wasted in a movie that never goes anywhere. By the time the storyline plays out, we’ve had enough of this dysfunctional family, whose fixation on death and morbid gloom is not exactly satisfying. Where are the vampires, one might ask? These are such bloodsuckers, you’d think somewhere in this picture the mood would change, or someone might try a different direction, and occasionally there’s evidence of some surreal visual flair, but then it insists on returning to the exact same grim tone, becoming so relentlessly downbeat that what we’re left with registers as a false note, drown out by the cold gloom in the air.