The White Ribbon

Mister Tee
Laureate
Posts: 5876
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: NYC
Contact:

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Jul 04, 2010 3:05 pm

Chiming in late. Put me on the side of, this is a major piece of work. I'm not generally fond of "mysteries left unexplained" -- never could stand Picnic at Hanging Rock -- but really liked this because 1) it was such a dense narrative even without a mystery reveal and 2) in a sense, it wasn't left unexplained. The teacher/narrator says right at the start "we should have noticed the kids all gathering together" the day of the initial accident with the doctor; the "solution" was just about put in our laps there. By never directly articulating the full explanation (except in the form of the teacher's unsupported allegations), the film puts us all in the position of the adults: if we fail to see the kids as the culprits, we almost have to be willfully ignoring evidence. For Christ's sake, we even see the little girl take the bird out of the cage right before it ends up shivved. (And the victims selected -- the handicapped child, the hedonistic doctor, the "hair so blonde and curly he must be meant to seem gay" son -- are of course much the targets the Nazis later went after as policy) So the structure of the narrative actually supports the film's theme.

I'd say the foreshadowing of the coming Nazi regime is thus more subtly rendered than in, say, The Damned (a movie I never much liked). Haneke presents the rot as, at that point, so embedded in the culture that there's no hope of preventing its emergence. The only people who are going to escape it -- the Baroness, teacher, midwife -- do so by fleeing. (Though the places they go -- another town; even Italy -- aren't far enough to escape the Reich's reach)

I of course regret not seeing the film on a big screen, but my TV is decent size, which allows for alot if not all of the visual style to show though. As I believe many have said, the cinematography is not show-offy B&W; it's richly textured B&W, which maintains even in a home viewing.

As for whether Haneke is cruel or ethical...I think he straddles the two. Certainly the doctor's diatribe against the midwife is cruel in the extreme (I had the feeling it was during that scene the film lost Oscar voters for good). And Haneke has shown sadistic impulses, in his Funny Games. But he obviously has some sort of crazed moral sense -- he clearly pities Huppert in The Piano Teacher in the scene where her would-be lover expresses such disgust for her needs. I'd say he's miles away from a sentimentalist, but not quite a misanthrope, either.

ITALIANO
Emeritus
Posts: 3798
Joined: Mon Jan 06, 2003 1:58 pm
Location: MILAN
Contact:

Postby ITALIANO » Tue Feb 16, 2010 4:37 am

Johnny Guitar wrote:There is an excellent two-volume scholarly, dense but very readable, book (full disclosure: I haven't read it in its entirety) by Klaus Theweleit called Male Fantasies which deals with proto-fascists in Germany, precisely the sort of people the respectable middle-class villagers and their children in The White Ribbon would presumably grow to be in years following the film's story.

This sounds very interesting (I checked, it's translated in Italian).

My father went to see The White Ribbon and, being a psychoanalyst, of course loved it. It reminded him of Jung's writings - analyzing his German patients, Jung had realized, as early as 1919, that something terrible would have happened soon in that country, to the psyche of the German people.

User avatar
Johnny Guitar
Assistant
Posts: 509
Joined: Sat Jan 18, 2003 5:14 pm
Location: Chicago

Postby Johnny Guitar » Mon Feb 15, 2010 8:45 pm

I finally, finally saw this earlier today. I don't think it's a masterpiece but it certainly has that tone to it (like There Will Be Blood or Haneke's own Funny Games: even if one loathes it, it's a film to be reckoned with). What finally occurred to me is the importance of children (and of generations) in Haneke's cinema--it's not a hidden theme, obviously, it's instantly recognizable. But I think I had not realized how crucial it is to Haneke's larger project--and yet it's probably the reason why over the past decade I've come around from thinking, like Damien a few posts down, that Haneke is essentially a gleeful misanthrope, to concluding that Haneke is a profoundly ethical filmmaker, in many ways quite forgiving of characters and of flesh-and-blood humans, but uncompromising in showing the consequences of every Pandora's box opened up.

When it comes to showing the ethical consequences of actions (including across history), Haneke is a merciless observer. But he is almost completely uninterested in establishing moral(istic) hierarchies within the worlds of his films, among the characters, even as he is obsessed with immoral, violent, intrusive behaviors. Again and again Haneke shows us the "origins" of evil actions, but challenges us to confidently place the blame firmly on discrete individuals. Who is to blame in Benny's Video? Time of the Wolf? And, in discerning guilt, when does one overstep certain boundaries? (That is, when does surveillance itself take a turn for the wicked?)

There is an excellent two-volume scholarly, dense but very readable, book (full disclosure: I haven't read it in its entirety) by Klaus Theweleit called Male Fantasies which deals with proto-fascists in Germany, precisely the sort of people the respectable middle-class villagers and their children in The White Ribbon would presumably grow to be in years following the film's story.

Cold, austere, crisp, bitter, invigorating, tasteful: if one were feeling playful and a little cynical one would liken The White Ribbon to a fine pilsener.

abcinyvr
Graduate
Posts: 248
Joined: Sat Oct 11, 2003 5:58 pm
Location: Vancouver Canada
Contact:

Postby abcinyvr » Tue Feb 02, 2010 12:04 am

FILM UNVEILS THE EVIL SIDE OF US ALL
Review by Katherine Monk, The Vancouver Sun
Rating: Four stars out of five.

Michael Haneke is one of those rare directors who can mess with your head – and make you love it.

It’s a cruel gift, really, because you never leave a Haneke movie feeling all that great about life and the world in general. You just leave addled and paranoid, wondering exactly what specific element was so unsettling.

Anyone who watched previous prize-winning efforts such as Cache or Funny Games will be acutely aware of how sharp, and how skilfully hidden, Haneke’s switchblade can be when it comes to social criticism.

The Palme d’Or-winning White Ribbon is a perfect case in point.

On the surface, this “German children’s story” appears to be a study of “the good old days” right before the First World War – before the notion of worldwide conflict was an everyday reality.

Through glorious black-and-white images that are so crisp, they border on the surreal, we enter a picturesque German village via the memoirs of a young schoolteacher (Christian Friedel).

The teacher tells us of a time when strange things began to happen in the sleepy little town, beginning with the mysterious placement of a taut wire between two trees. The wire trips the horse carrying the town doctor, who is forced to spend several weeks in a nearby town to recover.

In the meantime, more strange things begin to happen. The son of the local baron is kidnapped and beaten. A caged bird is executed with a pair of scissors. A boy with Down syndrome is tortured. The local reverend’s two eldest children are beaten with a cane – while wearing white ribbons.

This is a tale of actions and consequences. It’s also a story about morality, but, believe me, the dimensions of Haneke’s argument on right and wrong feel entirely foreign.

Through the whole movie, we’re stripped of the standard milestones that would help us chart the journey, beginning with the removal of the doctor in the opening sequence. As we all know, the doctor tends to be one character who ushers in common sense and scientific knowledge – ensuring a modern viewer has a touchstone to believe in.

Without the doctor, we have no detached man of science to make declarative statements about worth and health. We are left with the empathetic schoolteacher and the reverend who beats his children “to make them better people.”

In other words, we’re left in the hands of the rule-makers. But as the social order of this little village begins to fall apart, and the genuine horrors of small-town life are exposed to the light, we’re forced to look at the rules from an altered perspective.

Sure, kids are typically innocent and loving in the movies, but Haneke refuses easy characters and archetypal behaviours, even if the films themselves have an iconic feel.

Because the odd string of events are so unsettling, the movie absorbs an air of horror that Haneke maximizes with his shot selection – from people moving through the forest with torches in the dead of night, to the image of a half- clad young girl on a doctor’s examination table in the middle of the night.

The cinematography conjures comparisons to James Whale’s Frankenstein, and clearly, it’s no accident. Haneke is only too happy to horrify, but he doesn’t have to invent monsters or use prosthetic makeup to score his points.

Haneke simply unveils the venal, narcissistic nature of the average human, and he’s got all the blood, hoofs and horns he could ever require.

The revelations he shares with us in White Ribbon are tragic, but what makes them even more upsetting is how routine these trespasses are right now.

White Ribbon looks, acts and talks like a period piece, but the reference point of evil remains entirely unchanged. We might like to think the world was a kinder, gentler place before the Great War supposedly changed everything, but Haneke clearly has a different opinion.

The White Ribbon says there is no state of absolute innocence. We are grey from the moment we are born, and the sooner we embrace our universal flaws, weaknesses and self-absorption, the better our chances of forgiving each other – and transcending the wretched force within.

(I didn't like the film but the review is worth a read - don't agree at all with the James Whale bit)

ITALIANO
Emeritus
Posts: 3798
Joined: Mon Jan 06, 2003 1:58 pm
Location: MILAN
Contact:

Postby ITALIANO » Fri Jan 29, 2010 11:40 am

Damien wrote:Above all, a cautionary tale about the consequences of repression,

And these consequences are both psychological and historical.

Okri
Professor
Posts: 2475
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 3:28 pm
Location: Edmonton, AB

Postby Okri » Fri Jan 29, 2010 8:29 am

All right, I clearly need to see it again.

User avatar
Damien
Laureate
Posts: 6331
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 8:43 pm
Location: New York, New York
Contact:

Postby Damien » Fri Jan 29, 2010 3:15 am

Kings Row meets Village of the Damned. Michael Haneke’s misanthropy is so pronounced that it’s sometimes self-parodistic (see Funny Games), here particularly when the doctor spews venom at his mistress (although, at least Haneke's contempt seems heartfelt, unlike the facile disdain of the Coen boys).

Still, this is a fascinating, often hypnotic work, strikingly atmospheric, merciless and possessing a strange beauty. As the creator of the world of this film, Haneke is almost as cruel as the elders of the village, but for once he doesn’t seem to take glee in viciousness, and the film is permeated with sorrow, thanks largely to the countervailing warmth of the characters of the school teacher (Christian Friedel) and his beloved (the adorable Leonie Benesch).

Above all, a cautionary tale about the consequences of repression, and has anyone ever been as repressed as Martin, the kid who’s tied up in bed so he can’t masturbate And it’s always a joy to see a film which is indisputably personal without being self-indulgent.

7/10




Edited By Damien on 1264784000
"Y'know, that's one of the things I like about Mitt Romney. He's been consistent since he changed his mind." -- Christine O'Donnell

Joey
Graduate
Posts: 16
Joined: Tue Dec 01, 2009 11:01 am
Location: NY

Postby Joey » Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:54 pm

ITALIANO wrote:But I wasn't lying about my poor English; trust me, it's easier to explain what's wrong in The Blind Side than what's right in The White Ribbon.

Your English seems perfectly fine to me; in the short time I've been here, your posts stand out as among the most intelligent, witty and insightful.

And I'm with you on The White Ribbon. Not a perfect film by any means, but if the usual supects are nominated at the Oscars, the White Ribbon will be better than all the Best Picture nominees.




Edited By Joey on 1264107840

Sabin
Laureate
Posts: 6804
Joined: Thu Jan 02, 2003 12:52 am
Contact:

Postby Sabin » Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:13 pm

Maybe it's not that your tastes are getting "safe" then; it's probably just that American movies this year haven't generally been very interesting.

I'll take that.
Philomena is one of the year's best Philomenas!

ITALIANO
Emeritus
Posts: 3798
Joined: Mon Jan 06, 2003 1:58 pm
Location: MILAN
Contact:

Postby ITALIANO » Wed Jan 13, 2010 5:15 pm

The Original BJ wrote:But John Lee Hancock and The Blind Side? I can't imagine how bringing up that thing honors Haneke's film in any way.

It was a paradox obviously; I just wanted to compare two different ways of making cinema, and Hancock's movie is really at the extreme opposite of Haneke's. In my opinion, it honors The White Ribbon.

But you are right about Haneke's challenge to the viewer; the result may not be 100% perfect, but it's good for once to be provoked rather than reassured.

ITALIANO
Emeritus
Posts: 3798
Joined: Mon Jan 06, 2003 1:58 pm
Location: MILAN
Contact:

Postby ITALIANO » Wed Jan 13, 2010 5:02 pm

As I said, I talk alot about The Blind Side because, frankly, it's easy for me to do so. It's also I think the last American movie I've seen (no, actually that was The Messenger). But I know that it doesn't represent ALL America, just a part of it thank God.

Maybe it's not that your tastes are getting "safe" then; it's probably just that American movies this year haven't generally been very interesting.

The Original BJ
Emeritus
Posts: 3819
Joined: Mon Apr 28, 2003 8:49 pm

Postby The Original BJ » Wed Jan 13, 2010 4:58 pm

I knew this movie would spark debate. A couple brief responses:

I think the word frustrating can be interpreted in different ways, particularly across languages. For me, the fact that I find The White Ribbon frustrating does not prevent me from liking it a good deal. Personally, I think that's part of Haneke's intention with this film -- I found myself actively wrestling with it, even while I was watching it. I don't think I'd call it perfect but it demands a lot from its viewers, and I think it is hugely worthwhile. Maybe that's a contradiction in terms, but, there it is.

It reminded me of Brecht too, particularly in the way the film encourages the viewer (I think?) to interpret a lot of the occurrences as metaphor, and the characters as symbols. (Also, its bleak sense of humor.)

It's one thing to compare The White Ribbon to The Hurt Locker in terms of what one thinks the films do well or not. But John Lee Hancock and The Blind Side? I can't imagine how bringing up that thing honors Haneke's film in any way.

Sabin
Laureate
Posts: 6804
Joined: Thu Jan 02, 2003 12:52 am
Contact:

Postby Sabin » Wed Jan 13, 2010 4:35 pm

Okay, I just wanted to know if you saw some Brechtian parallels that escaped me. It's certainly clinical.

I could be mistaken but I don't think you've mentioned a single movie quite as much as The Blind Side in the past month. I haven't engaged you much because I haven't seen it, nor do I have any desire to. I don't want to use The Blind Side as any kind of barometer as to my personal tastes in film or any indication of my proximity within "The Industry" (of which I am decidedly outside of). You can certainly look to The Blind Side as a cultural phenomenon within America, a collective (and some would say wrong-headed) dissatisfaction with Obama's first year. I'm just mentioning The Blind Side because you've mentioned it and/or Hancock in the last two posts.

You cited Top Ten Lists previously. This year, my favorite films are as follows: The Brothers Bloom, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Humpday, The Hurt Locker, In the Loop, Julia, A Serious Man, Summer Hours, and Tokyo Sonata. Granted there are far more American movies on my list but I largely chalk that up to the fact that I've been unable to watch as many films this year as I would like. I would say that this is not what many would call An Industry Insider's List by any means.

I disagree with you that my tastes are becoming "Safe" as I grow. I have increasingly less use for more and more films -- your Bays or Scotts of the summer -- so I'm forced to look closer at what I am watching across the board both foreign and domestic. Re: "The Use I Have for Films", I admire what The White Ribbon is presenting only on the surface: a beautifully shot anti-nostalgic remembrance of things past. But not for really any of the storytelling that Haneke did.
Philomena is one of the year's best Philomenas!

ITALIANO
Emeritus
Posts: 3798
Joined: Mon Jan 06, 2003 1:58 pm
Location: MILAN
Contact:

Postby ITALIANO » Wed Jan 13, 2010 3:44 pm

Frustrating isn't an insult, I know, but it's one of the most subjective words one can use about a movie, because, of course, it depends on what one's personal expectations are. And your expectations are, well, yes, let's say "intrinsically American", which doesn't mean right or wrong (you used to be different though; your tastes are becoming safer and safer, and this has probably something to do with you being now part of the system, or getting into it. I know that such a screenplay, such a view of cinema wouldnt be accepted by any Hollywood studio, but that's not my way of judging a movie. You miss the "narrative growth" of the scenes, I don't).

It's not a Brechtian movie, but it reminded me of Brecht for several reasons, including its almost clinical portrayal of a (very German) society and, of course, its intentional coldness and avoidance of emotions.

But I wasn't lying about my poor English; trust me, it's easier to explain what's wrong in The Blind Side than what's right in The White Ribbon.




Edited By ITALIANO on 1263415488

Sabin
Laureate
Posts: 6804
Joined: Thu Jan 02, 2003 12:52 am
Contact:

Postby Sabin » Wed Jan 13, 2010 3:15 pm

This is the kind of movie I really can't write about in English because my English isn't good enough to completely express what I feel about it.

Oh, stop. It's served you quite well in describing how we are intrinsically wrong in other arenas.

Yet I think it's unfairly dismissed here, and no, sorry, it's not Haneke's Precious.

That was basically a joke. The kind of joke where one uses a retarded child as a punchline.

Is it frustrating? Ambiguous, yes, but frustrating I don't know. It doesn't offer easy solutions, this is true, but we have plenty of conventional American (and not only American) movies which do that, so if for once we have to thnk a bit I wouldnt be so disappointed honestly (and our thoughts shouldnt only be about "who did it" by the way).

To be fair, I don't think it is ambiguous at all. I think the film knows damn well who laid out the trip-wire, who beat Karli, etc, etc. This isn't Caché, where we are supposed to keep looking, where the answer lies in history. It's frustrating because it doesn't deepen as it goes along. Its narrative progresses with added cruelties designed to deepen. You learn one character is incestuous. You learn another is a hypocrite. I'm not bemoaning the lack of intriguing mystery, but of canvas.

"Frustrating", "boring", "too long scenes" are the typical old accusations once directed at artists like Resnais or Antonioni; now it's Haneke's turn.

This isn't fair. If anything, I think the scenes in Haneke's film are too short. He's like Hitchcock of the mundane. He lays the camera down and shocks us with suspense in everyday life. And it's horrifying! This serves him well in Caché and Code Unknown, in which his scenes are much longer. In The White Ribbon, every scene in a tiny vignette the end of which all feel the same. So it feels monotonous. There are of course some variations here and there. If that makes my needs intrinsically "American", I don't know what to tell you. I don't necessarily count "Frustrating" as an insult. Some of my favorite films this decade are frustrating. There is a difference between "monotonous" and "boring" though. The White Ribbon never really lost my interest, nor do I gauge a film's worth solely on a 1 - 10 of how much it keeps my interest. I just found its thesis to be limited to Reminding That Violence Is Taught.

And I don't think that Haneke should be deified as a Misunderstood Artist just because some people don't like the film he won the Palme d'Or for. He's been pretty celebrated in this country from most circles.

It gives you a glimpse into an era, into its tensions, both social and emotional; we don't see this too often in movies.

This is the only thing I like about this film. It is a gorgeous window.

The Hurt Locker it isn't. And unlike The Hurt Locker, it doesn't even provide an easy emotional way out, it doesnt let your own tension to dissolve after each scene. Life isn't like that; movies (even good ones) can be of course, but Haneke clearly isn't John Lee Hancock (or, so that I won't be accused of being anti American, Giuseppe Tornatore).

Is the only reason you bring up The Hurt Locker because it is an intensely (over-) celebrated American film or because it also presents us with a window into an era? I find this argument to be something of a dead-end because it results in Harmony Korine films held in higher esteem than Resnais, Antonioni, Tornatore, Bigelow OR John Lee Hancock.

But I agree that the cinematography is sublime. It doesn't shout to you that it's in black and white; it rather captures you quietly, and it's true to both the period and the metaphorical, literary dark heart of the movie.

Yup.

Oh, and I forgot Brecht of course.

Just for my own sake, are you calling The White Ribbon Brechtian?




Edited By Sabin on 1263413816
Philomena is one of the year's best Philomenas!


Return to “2009”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest