The White Ribbon (15)

Nov 24, 2010
Cranbrook Film Society

Shot in black and white, Michael Haneke’s powerful film is set in a small village in northern Germany on the eve of the First World War. The story is told to us in retrospect many years later by the school teacher, who weaves his own personal story into the narrative of the events that take place. It is still a very ordered society, unchanging for generations, with everyone in and knowing their place: landowner, doctor, pastor, teacher, farmer. These characters, while representing archetypes, are also individuals whom we see in their private, domestic lives and witness their acts of violence and cruelty. A series of apparent accidents and deliberate acts of harm start occurring and the villagers grow increasingly fearful and suspicious. As order breaks down, so does their community.

Michael Haneke was born in Bavaria, but grew up in Austria, son of director and actor Fritz Haneke and actress Beatrix Degenschild. He started working as a director in television and theatre in 1970, and directed a production of Don Giovanni in Paris in 2006. He directed and wrote the screenplay for Caché (Hidden, 2005) in which he used many of the same techniques as in The White Ribbon – long, static shots; ambiguity and lack of resolution. He said “It’s the duty of art to ask questions, not to provide answers. And if you want a clearer answer, I’ll have to pass” and “I like the multiplicity of books, because each book is different in the mind of each reader. The point being that, despite what TV shows us, and what the news stories tell us, there is never just one truth, there is only personal truth.”

He is clearly influenced by Dreyer and Wedekind (the subtitle “A German Children’s Story” echoes Wedekind’s “A Children’s Tragedy”, subtitle to Spring Awakening). But the biggest debts which he acknowledges are to Theodor Fontane’s classic 1895 novel, Effi Briest, and to the photographer August Sander who set out in 1910 to photograph a taxonomy of German faces and archetypes.

Cast: Burghart Klaussner, Christian Friedel, Josef Bierbichler, Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Tukur, Ernst Jacobi

Michael Haneke | Germany | 2009 | 144 minutes | 15


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