Monday, May 24, 2010

Review: The White Ribbon

If I had a calorie for every time I've thought about Haneke over the last week, I'd be obese. So here's getting some thoughts off my chest:

After torturing a family a family twice in Funny Games and it's pointless remake, harassing another with video tapes in Hidden, and presenting an abusive fetish driven relationship between a teenage boy and an elderly woman in The Piano Teacher, director Michael Haneke brings us his next family caper showing us Nazi Germany: The Wonder Years in The White Ribbon. Anyone who has caught a glimpse of a Haneke film will be familiar with the edgy, twisted dimensions he adds to his films that push the envelope so hard that it would give you paper cuts. All poor analogies aside, people who have seen more than a glimpse would realise that Haneke is never exploitive, and creates tension you could cut with a knife without a knife or any other weapon ever needing to appear.

In perhaps his most successful and mature piece yet, The White Ribbon paints an eerie picture of a small town in Germany just prior to World War One where there appears to be something sinister lurking beneath everything, particularly the children. Haneke masterfully keeps the audience uneasy throughout the film letting them know something isn’t right, but you’d be damned if you could pin point what that is. But Haneke, is all his nihilistic wisdom knows what it is, and better yet he knows what his audience will and won’t know. It’s so refreshing to have a filmmaker not treat his audience like an idiot, but challenge them every frame and as a result it makes The White Ribbon, like many of his other films linger long past the closing credits. He tests them too, at every corner with the increasing dread simmering throughout the film, you’re just waiting for it to boil over and limbs to severed, bowels dismembered and people to scream, and most curiously, is it wrong to say we’re disappointed when it doesn’t happen? It’s toying with expectations that make The White Ribbon so effective, and whilst the mystery might not have a Poirot to tweak his moustache and solve it, it doesn’t matter. There are far more interesting things going on.

Credit is also certainly due to the talented cast and crew that truly elevate the film. Each frame seems like a creepy stoic postcard you’d find under a floor board, but also has a visual beauty to it that makes it a pleasure to watch. The costumes and set design are likewise pitch perfect in historical accuracy, but unnervingly sinister just in the way Haneke presents the people who occupy them. The cast too is commendable, with so often bad child actors ruining a movie, it was a risk to have the children play such a prominent and vital part of the film, but they all nail it. Are you listing Hollywood? If Haneke can do it with an entire cast of amateurs why did Jake Lloyd have to taint the entire Star Wars franchise? But that’s a whole other ramble entirely.

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