Friday, April 2, 2010

THE WHITE RIBBON (Michael Haneke, 2009, Austria)

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+)


Samuel Wilson said...

This was a stark movie about the persistence of sin across the generations. It has an unreliable narrator only insofar as he doesn't know half of what's going on, the film showing us the rest. The false ideal of purity symbolized by the white ribbon leads the narrator to think that something unique or historically important happened in 1913 while the sins of the parents prove that there's probably nothing new at all to those events. Your review does a fine film justice.

Alex DeLarge said...

Thanks Uncle Sam!

The one persistant thought as I was watching the film was that we're seeing history repeated, the parents passing down their morality to the children. The foundation for terrorism was laid long before this generation of the damned.

This isn't due out on dvd/bd in the US until June, but if you have a code free player it is released in the UK.

Haneke is my director of the month so I will post and update some reviews from my archives. I've written reviews of every film except THE PIANO TEACHER so I hope to revisit it soon!

Shubhajit said...

Indeed. In the same way that absolute power corrupts absolutely, so do values. As Haneke himself said while speaking about this film, "The seeds of deadliest emotions are there in a society that allows for nothing except goodness." A society where one is free to be bad is perhaps better than one where one is compelled to be good.

Fine review there, Alex.