Mar 2, 2011

The White Ribbon

After what seemed to be endless postponement, I finally grabbed the devil by the horns and watched Michael Haneke's black and white masterpiece The White Ribbon. Indeed, only 5 minutes after watching the film, I can say without doubt that The White Ribbon is Haneke's cinematic masterwork. For once, an undeniable masterpiece has also been critically acclaimed on a international level. The White Ribbon won the Palme d'Or at the 2009 Cannes film festival, on top of winning the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2010 67th Golden Globe Awards. Michael Haneke had been working on The White Ribbon for over decade, originally intending to produce the project as an Austrian television mini-series. Thankfully, Michael Haneke decided to direct The White Ribbon as a feature-length film, especially when you consider the bold and traditionally European aesthetic it ingeniously radiates, which would have probably been lost in a made-for-television format. One of my main issues with Haneke's earlier work is that most of these films are aesthetically dull. After all, I love both Funny Games films because the psychological warfare Haneke stuns you with, as well as the brilliant acting performances; not because they are beautiful (far from it) films. In The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke once again returns to violence, but this time with a classic and charming twist. 

 Kiss the hand that beats you.

The White Ribbon cinematographer Christian Berger was nominated for Best Cinematographer at the Academy Awards. Although Berger did not receive an Academy Award for the rich and breathtaking cinematography that he painstakingly contributed to The White Ribbon, the Austrian cinematographer would later receive the award from the American Society of Cinematographers. It was no revelation for me to find out that Christian Berger carefully studied the work of Ingmar Bergman's greatest cinematographer Sven Nykvist in preparation for shooting The White Ribbon. Shot in time-honored black and white 35mm film, The White Ribbon permeates the keen kind of artistic integrity that is commonly associated with the European masterpieces of yesteryear; without feeling like another failed postmodern period piece. Taking cues from Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, various scenes in The White Ribbon were short merely using oil lamps and candles. The White Ribbon, being a film full of brooding intrigue and a dark metaphysical underbelly that lurks throughout, touches you in a way comparable to the devil evoking a tingling in your soul. My only complaint with the film is that it should have concluded with a title card featuring both the director and cinematographer of the film, the two true artists of this grand cinematic achievement. After all, the artistic partnership of director Orson Welles and cinematographer Gregg Toland was candidly recognized at the conclusion of Citizen Kane

The White Ribbon is set in a fictional protestant Northern German village named Eichwald, right before the first World War. From the onset of the film, one realizes there is something of a Luciferian character hiding amongst the shadows of this seemingly pleasant village. The White Ribbon is narrated by an unnamed elderly tailor who reluctantly recollects his memories as an idealistic young school teacher that taught the children of Eichwald. The unquestionable dictators of Eichwald are three men: The baron, the pastor, and the doctor. After all, Germany is the Fatherland and these three men are symbolic of how the Germany empire was run. Of course, the three leaders of Eichwald are tyrannical authoritarians that reject all forms of criticism and severely punish disobedient offenders. Being a post-Word War II Austrian filmmaker, Michael Haneke follows in the typical contemporary fashion of negatively portraying the father figure, as well as brandishing the violent nature of male supremacy. I recently read German sociologist Klaus Theweleit's two volume Magnus Opus Male Fantasies, a psychoanalytic assault on the position and traditions of German men. Just like Theweleit purports in Male Fantasies, the German alpha-males featured in The White Ribbon treat their women as objects used only for reproduction and pleasure. For example, during a very symbolic scene in The White Ribbon, a baroness expresses her desire to leave her husband. After expressing her love for another man, the Baron simply asks his wife if they have had sex, completely ignoring the Baroness's wholehearted admittance of venerating someone else. The small village in The White Ribbon is like Nazi Germany in a vacuum; symbolically foreshadowing the supreme dictator that will one day rule Germany - the "father of fathers" - Adolf Hitler.  Like the people of Nazi Germany, the villagers featured in The White Ribbon are willing to look the other way in regards to murder and brutality, as long as the father (Uncle Adolf) impetrates such demands.

The White Ribbon has another quality that is quite rare in any movie; brilliant acting performances by talented intuitive children. Not since I first saw The Night of the Hunter, have I been exposed to a group of children that exhibit such depth and range in their acting performances as the kids featured in The White Ribbon. I especially enjoyed a heartwarming scene in the film where an inquisitive 4 year old boy asks his sister about death and what it means. This same happy 4 year old later blazingly expresses his sadness when he realizes his perverted father is abusing his sister. Throughout The White Ribbon, the behavioral influences of the father is shown in the cruel behavior of their children. The bestial punishment given by a puritanical pastor is later passed on in another form by his deranged progeny. The cold stares and vindictive attributes of the pastor's children put Macaulay Culkin's ridiculous performance in The Good Son to shame. In Benny's Video, Michael Haneke banally captured the absurdist homicidal ramifications that can occur after being desensitized via a pig slaughtering home video; certainly something that I did not buy, hence why I felt the film was a failure. With The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke was finally able to capture the very real and tenable origin of violence in most young children; authoritarian corporal punishment. After all, those children needed to be hardened during their critical years so they could eventually fight in both World Wars.  Nowadays, the Israelis and Arab terrorists teach their children from virtual infancy to love battle and highly regard war. Who knows, maybe the collective passivity that now reigns in the Occident is a direct result of contemporary European parents abstaining from domestic corporal punishment.  The parent inflicted violence featured in The White Ribbon may be pastiche, but it was also the traditional order that held Germany families together, even before the days of Tactius's Germania.  At the most fundamental level, The White Ribbon reveals that the good old days were not exactly the apt of days, but at least they delineated some kind ordnung.

-Ty E

1 comment:

✗✗ said...

Another one I will have to see! I loved "Funny Games" so that in itself has me feel obligated to see this as well.