The White Ribbon (Austria/Germany/France/Italy, 2009)

thewhiteribbonDirected by: Michael Haneke. I had already seen this one years ago, when it came out in theatres. At that time, I had indulged in a bit of a Haneke kick which has since faded. Not sure why, but his films didn’t leave me with an incredibly enjoyable emotional experience, however much I appreciated them on an artistic level. To put it somewhat dumbly, Haneke doesn’t make “feel-good” movies, and I’m glad he doesn’t, but after watching Funny Games in German, I wasn’t really falling over myself to watch Funny Games in English. But I remembered this one to be very intriguing with a minimum of devastation, and I remember there being more content to chew than I could really chew at the time. Now that I’ve seen it a second time, I’m not sure how much more illuminated I am. The one-second tagline for myself is that it’s a drama about the muted tension and mysterious violence, seemingly unleashed by the town’s children, in the year before the outbreak of war in 1914, the assumption being that all of this muted, unspoken hostility and bewildering, unaccountable violence is an indictment on the muted violence of their parents’ generation, and a comment on the explosion of violence that this generation of youngsters will unleash in their adulthood. Basically, this is an oblique WWII/Holocaust movie, and that makes it intriguing to me, to try to parse out what modern Germany thinks of those events and its own relationship to that time. But, this is just a single person’s interpretation, Michael Haneke, and I don’t know how illuminated the topic is for me, beyond the obvious: that if you want to figure out the answer to the question “why 1933-1945?”, you have to look further and further back. To sum it up somewhat crudely, the answer to that question is: inequality, feudalism, class conflict, sexual abuse, organized religion, and basic human viciousness. Basically, the answer is: all of the things a person could find reprehensible about that culture at that time. And the film, in great Haneke fashion, leaves this all open enough so that you can’t reasonably pin this violence on any one child, or on any one set of grievances. It’s pretty obvious that the one petulant teenager destroys the Lord’s cabbages out of frustration for the unsafe working conditions that took his mother’s life. But surely those cabbages are in a different category than the awful blinding of the disabled child, who never harmed anyone, the senseless brutality of which is arguably the film’s darkest point. Perhaps Haneke’s greatest strength is the ability to look at humanity at the points where it least wants to be looked at, and just puts that behaviour on display, without trying to fit that behaviour into a pre-existing thesis. Even that’s up for argument I guess, but one inarguable thing Haneke has going for him is that he makes great films, with great acting, and no matter how awful the subject matter is, it always looks incredibly composed and intelligently shot.

One response to “The White Ribbon (Austria/Germany/France/Italy, 2009)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2016 | Offhand Reviews·

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