Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: The White Ribbon

Austrian writer/director Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon is the kind of film that the term 'masterpiece' was coined for. Every aspect of the film, from writing to camera movements to acting to lighting to sound design, all come together to create a very real and immensely disturbing atmosphere.
Set in a small German village in the months leading up to WWI, the story focuses on a young schoolteacher who takes it upon himself to investigate when a series of strange crimes rock the tiny community.
More that anything, the pale, ghostly children in the town aide most in creating this sense of horrific unease. At one point, one of the older girls wanders into the pastor's study, wet hair hanging in front of her face in tangles. She takes a pair of scissors from the desk, then reaches her hand into the birdcage. The scene cuts away, but we know what she intends to do to that little bird. Haneke just can't resist making us accustom to the idea of evil children.
The children are not evil in an Omen kind of way, or in a truant, Bart Simpson kind of way. Yes, a couple of them are outwardly malevolent, but mostly their venom is kept under the surface.
Being aware of Germany's history in the decades after the time the film is set, as most people are, gives the whole affair a simmering, foreboding feeling. Cutting to a close up of one of the children, we get the inescapable sense that we are looking into the eyes of a future Nazi. Indeed, it is likely that Haneke intentionally set out to explore the roots the evil that took old of central Europe in the 1930's. This examination is terrifying, yet it helps to contextualize a political and military movement that we all too often mythologize.

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