Absolute values corrupt absolutely. Writer/ Director Michael Haneke severs the umbilical of human nurture, where the children of the damned succumb to an aborted morality.
Haneke introduces a rural village in a seething summer before the Great War, inhabited by a cross-section of authoritarian patriarchs, their servile wives and seemingly innocuous children. But through the scintillating haze of religious dogma lurks a corrupt shadow.
The film is centered upon the local schoolteacher, an outsider whose judgment remains unbiased because he is not indoctrinated by the village’s poisonous baptism. His gentle voice contradicts the deadly malaise, admitting that his subjective narrative is faultily based upon rumors and supposition, though his honesty is not in question. Soon, a few unsolved crimes disintegrates the amiable rural illusion as hidden sins are revealed, spreading like a pandemic. The hierarchy of the town is based upon the local baron, pastor, and doctor though each falls victim to the abuses: the baron’s son is tortured, the pastor’s children are aggressive and rebellious, and the doctor’s daughter is raped. But each is also abuser: baron is responsible for the death of a woman, the pastor is dominantly patriarchal towards his family, and the good doctor rapes his own child. They sow the seeds of destruction and reap the whirlwind, themselves children of scorn.
Haneke’s beautiful monochrome cinematography imbues the film with an ethereal quality, as if this violent remembrance is the narrator’s lucid dream. The characters seem ghostlike in the inky darkness, corpses haunting the periphery of existence. Caught in the icy grip of the narrative is a spark of compassion, a humble romance between two outsiders: the narrator and the baron’s maid. Haneke reminds us that human beings still exist amid the chaos and mystery, people who have the capacity to be good.
The story ends on the brink of the Great War, the final ingredient of Nationalism added to the murderous recipe and served with god’s right hand. Final Grade: (A+)