25 February 2010

At the movies: The White Ribbon (Das WeiBe Band).

A series of mysterious accidents plague a small village in pre-World War I Germany. Starting with a horseriding accident, then escalating to vandalism, torture, child-beating, mysterious disappearances, and finally murder, we observe the thinly-veiled structures of civilized society and how easily they are undone.

Authorities are absolute, and hierarchies are inescapable, even in the smallest groups. And what of the children? Could these youths, the picture of Aryan innocence, be concealing something sinister behind their forced smiles and quizzical looks?

You'd better believe it.

A nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography Oscars as well as the winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, The White Ribbon has been wrangling heaps of attention for its portrayal of the rise of German fascism as well as its unique look (black-and-white, officially, but much more interested in the palette of grey- naturally- that comes about from color photography digitally desaturated) and its central mystery-without-an-answer.

As an allegory about the rise of fascism, The White Ribbon is a bit too obvious and enamored of its own deliberateness. Writer/Director Michael Haneke (Funny Games, Caché) can't get past being the stern taskmaster one expects from his body of work (only his masterpieces Time of the Wolf and Code Unknown escape this syndrome), and as such, everything seems far too exacting on the audience. But as an arthouse take on the themes of genre stalwart Children of the Corn, it's pretty enjoyable.

There's a sizable audience for films where Prussian frustration and Protestant repression get dumped on and beaten into the next generation of youth, and the steady hand and keen eye of Haneke deliver exactly that in the most steely and ruthless manner possible.

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