Monday, July 12, 2010

The White Ribbon

Michael Haneke has always appeared as a singular director. A creator of brutal and moral films refusing to play nice with the convention of film and the frailty of the human psyche. Prior to watching The White Ribbon, I had never noticed the similar tones of Haneke and Lars von Trier. But, now, the similarities have been spotted.

Haneke's films and stories are so tightly wound it is impossible to escape their web once they've been entered. This black and white film is fairly quiet. Most of the characters barely speak above a polite conversational tone. Most of the film is set during the winter, the hushed tones of the white across the German village landscape. And, a plot that never fully answers the questions being asked. By all accounts, this two and a half hour film should seem slow. Instead, it moves at a fairly quick pace.

Haneke sets a beautifully terrified mood of a small German village in 1913. Something is amiss in this once well mannered town. From the start, the town doctor is put into hospital from a trip wire placed near his home. Later, the Baron's son hung upside down and whipped until bleeding, and then the blinding of the handicapped boy. Is this a tale of innocence lost? Of religious zealots gone too far? Or, something larger?

I would like to argue The White Ribbon is evidence of how the atrocities of the Holocaust could have occurred. Haneke isn't making excuses, or apologizing, or taking away from the horrors of the Holocaust. Mostly, Haneke wants to find a reason why an event so large could take place without anyone putting a stop to it. Throughout the film, the audience is shown one act of violence turn into another and followed by another. The village is shocked at first, and slowly find themselves almost immune to the violence. Asking fewer questions. When the town pastor finds a dead bird with a pair of scissors shoved through its middle, he never questions one of his children (the only possible suspects).

We turn a blind eye to the things we don't want to believe. We hope by ignoring a situation, it will go away... not worsen. This is such a simple view, an almost comical piece of evidence to explain how so much hate could occur without ever being stopped. But, I don't think Haneke is so far off. The way anything can spiral out of control in the shortest time span isn't something void of truth.


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