Monday, June 28, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #40: The White Ribbon

OK, so the backlog is cleared. So I'm ready to embark on the bold movie-watching experiment discussed here: to only watch movies I am virtually certain that I will love. None of this namby-pamby taking a chance on something that I might like B.S. Very few video store customers these days browse and take chances, so I won't either! I don't know why I didn't think of this before.

The object is to get me enjoying movies again, instead of the oh geez do I have to, I'd rather listen to music/read/eat/watch my kids sleep/go to sleep myself response that the idea of watching a movie has occasioned in me for almost a decade. But also to write up the results here on the blog, which can be as much as a deterrent to watching movies as watching the movies themselves. So, because I am fundamentally lazy, I will be borrowing a page from the Dude Movies book penned by our beloved K-Cog (not that he is lazy, he writes a blog called Sloth after all). The page dictates that all of my Moviepalooza (as I have informally dubbed the Experiment) reviews will be written in template form, for lack of a better expression I am too lazy to remember.

Movie: The White Ribbon (2009, Michael Haneke)

Credentials (why it seems like a sure thing): Haneke directed two of the best films of the 1990s, Code Unknown and Caché, and even his misfires are of interest. This one won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, so seems to not be one of the misfires. Nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, but did not win, which is another plus as the Foreign Film Oscar winners tend to be the blandest of the nominees. Seems to be about creepy, if not outright evil, kids - always a good time at the pictures. Trailer and clips I've seen are in drop-dead-gorgeous black & white.

Stolen Plot Synopsis: Strange events happen in a small village in the north of Germany during the years just before World War I, which seem to be ritual punishment. The abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of this mystery.


Not Caché-caliber, but very little is, in this viewer's opinion. The theme seems to be the seeds of fascism and extremism, how a succession of small (and not-so-small) sins, as well as the absence of a reliable moral compass, eventually lead to a torrent of evil. In this case, we only see the initial manifestation of the evil, with the historical timeframe of the tale virtually guaranteeing that many of the children in this village will become Nazis. The White Ribbon documents the creeping unpleasantness that penetrates the calm before the storm.

Lest this make it sound like a dry history lesson, it should be emphasized that the events themselves are entirely fictional, and - it is strongly implied - unreliable, being the hazy memories of the town's schoolmaster, at more than a half-century's remove. Haneke does have the streak of a didactic scold to him, which showed itself nowhere as much as his love-it or hate-it assault on the movie audience and its appetite for screen violence, Funny Games. In his best work - and I'm lumping The White Ribbon in there - this tendency is tempered by a moral and narrative ambiguity that poses many more questions than it raises. As a result, viewers seeking a cut and dry story that ties up its loose ends will find Caché and The White Ribbon immensely frustrating. But not having all the answers makes these two films infinitely more unsettling and thought-provoking, not puzzle films exactly, but ones that leave themselves open to multiple viewings and, most importantly, infinite re-considerings of the moral questions that the films pose.

This is a creepy, creepy movie. The children are perfectly chosen - a couple of dud child actors in there and all of the disturbing ambiguity and atmosphere that Haneke creates here would go up in flames. But they're perfect: convincing, and hard to accurately read. When the schoolteacher confronts the town's minister with his theories, the scene would be outright ridiculous if these were Village of the Damned-type embodiments of evil. Haneke's work is more nuanced and troubling than that.

Conclusion: A strong start for Moviepalooza, with another new movie (and Oscar nominee!) on deck next.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved Cache, but White Ribbon (watched last night) did little for me. I was waiting for the creepiness to get really creepy, and it didn't. There is slow and atmospheric and then there's just slow, and for me the static camera and the static characters made White Ribbon just slow.