328) The White Ribbon (2009) Dir: Michael Haneke Date Released: December 30, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5
Thanks to accomplished Austrian provocateur Michael Haneke, the residents of a nameless German hamlet have got trouble and it starts with "F," ends with "M" and rhymes with "Cashism." The year is 1913 and the village's residents, ruled by stern, mostly hypocritically-so, disciplinarians are already paving the road for Hitler and his dogma of staunch puritanism. Like Whitney Houston, Haneke believes that children were the future so it's only natural that they take all the canings, all the gossip, all the sins and frustrations of their prole fathers and all the teary-eyed angst that they've got pent up in them and start turning into what they resent most--a fetishized version of their parents. The gradual rise to power of these frustrated youts (no "H," bitte) starts here and "Rubber Duck" theory be damned, they will bite the hand that feeds them.
The White Ribbon can be seen as a cosmic* trick on the town's 31 year-old teacher.** He's the only one that sees what's going on and eventually, when he finally puts the pieces together and figures out that his pupils are up to something, it's already too late. What exactly happens and which children did it isn't important, just that the one guy that recognizes their culpability is ultimately impotent.
To add insult to injury, while he only figures it out by the film's end, the audience is cued to the same realization from the get-go, though we're never given a solid foundation to those suspicions beyond a vague but persistent sense of dread. Haneke is a genius when it comes to making a close-up of a 17 year-old girl nervously giggling look like the most menacing resident of Das Villagen Uff Der Verdammt. I mean, these kids are so scrubbed-up, so clean, so perfect. And they're never far from where the panic's at. By the time our well-meaning, accidental sleuth gets wise to what's going on, Hanke's repeated the two-step process of 1) ratcheting up the tension, then 2) letting it slacken off so often that you'll be practically screaming for him to take these kids to task.
(SPOILER) So yes, if you must know, the fact that the devil children get to fade back into the fold of their perversely quiet "City on a Hill" from Hell effectively shames the viewer for wanting what they know they can't have (c'mon, it's Haneke we're talking about here). (END SPOILER) I'd say there's more to it than that but even I don't see it that way. The main point is: the apathy of the town's elders effectively sowed the seeds of Fascism, 'mkay? Still, I don't go to see Haneke's films for their morals but rather their depth of malice. The White Ribbon may not be what should have won the Palme D'Or but....eh. That's a fight I don't feel like taking on.
*This term's going around like H1N1. What? I can be topical, too.
**Somebody remind me what this guy's name is?