Sunday, 13 December 2009

the white ribbon (d. haneke)

My mind is a little blunted by the return of insomnia, and perhaps also the crunching, megalithic nature of Haneke's latest offering.

As a result of which I have only one observation of any note about The White Ribbon. First, however, the observations of little note. Which include the fact that, in spite of hints of narrative, the film in fact appears to be another impressively gruelling example of Haneke's slightly obsessive reluctance to favour an audience with anything in the way of what they expect or (so he might argue) have been lead to subliminally desire. As in Funny Games (and perhaps Hidden), the evil kids walk away unpunished, most of them implicitly destined to become successful members of the National Socialist party. As well as its reluctance to bestow any kind of Grecian notions of justice, the film is also a whodunnit whose detective, the engagingly buffoonish teacher, spends a year putting clues together and then fails to act on them. The unnamed school teacher is no Poirot, and in spite of an implicit decency, it seems unlikely that, having survived the first world war, he will put up much resistance to the rise of Hitler. Brecht wrote, unlucky the land in need of heroes, but Haneke appears to offer a bleak counterpoint: cursed is the land lacking in heroes. Firstly it will suffer the persecution of the evil children, then it will run the risk of fascism; finally it will fall prey to the moral vacuum of modern consumerism.

Having noted all of Haneke's usual barbed contrariness and general cassandrism, my one point of real note relates to his aesthetics. With The White Ribbon the director has followed up on his success d'estime with Hidden (and ridden the strange hurdle of his misjudged US remake of Funny Games), with a film that, in spite of its inherent audience antagonism, has been hailed as a masterpiece, and lauded with the Palme D'Or. Part of the film's success is probably attributable to its inordinately beautiful cinematography, composed on a stark black and white print. Haneke has always been a secret stylist, and here he gives this vice free rein. Given this, no matter how stringent he is in his adherence to his narrative principles, there's something about The White Ribbon's production values that gives it the feel of a weighty classic, redolent of a great European literary tradition, something enhanced by the unusually wordy narration. Perhaps this is part of another game within a game, but it's not hard to see how the lofty aesthetics allow critics to drool; and have helped The White Ribbon to have generated a contrarily eulogistic response, which somehow doesn't seem in keeping with Haneke's aspirations. As ever, with cinema, the production values themselves contribute and in some way seem to impose their own set of values, irrespective of the filmmakers' own intentions.

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