The White Ribbon

ITALIANO
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Postby ITALIANO » Wed Jan 13, 2010 2:55 pm

Oh, and I forgot Brecht of course.



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ITALIANO
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Postby ITALIANO » Wed Jan 13, 2010 2:31 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. Yet I think it's unfairly dismissed here, and no, sorry, it's not Haneke's Precious. It may not be Haneke's best (that's still, in my opinion, Hidden), but it's so full of historical, literary references and it's so intelligently done that I think it should made ALL the Ten Best lists I've read in the other thread.

Ok, it's not a cartoon (this year it seems that if you are not a cartoon this board won't like you; let's just hope the Academy will be less shallow). 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). "Frustrating", "boring", "too long scenes" are the typical old accusations once directed at artists like Resnais or Antonioni; now it's Haneke's turn.

As for me, I wasn't bored, I was intrigued, I felt like I was reading a modern German classic; Durenmatt, Zweig, Boll, Mann all came to my mind. They werent quick, they werent Mickey Spillane; they took their time.
This is also obviously a movie directed by an old man, but for once in a good way, the way novels written by old men often are (for movies it's usually different, and directors tend not to age too well). It gives you a glimpse into an era, into its tensions, both social and emotional; we don't see this too often in movies. 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).

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.




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Postby The Original BJ » Wed Jan 13, 2010 1:27 pm

Sabin, you're right on a lot of points. The White Ribbon IS a frustrating movie, and, from a writing standpoint, I wish the film built a lot more. (It's sort of what I meant by my 'less is less' comment...we can only take so many awful things happening one after another before we want more answers...more fleshing out of the ideas...etc.) And it should have been shorter, making its point in a far more concise manner.

But it's an ambitious movie, and a strange, fascinating one, and I have to tip my hat to it, in the same way that I've mostly come around to admiring A Serious Man (can't get it out of my head!) even though I still don't think it makes total sense to me.

Plus, The White Ribbon looks so darn purty.

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Postby Sabin » Wed Jan 13, 2010 12:13 pm

What's frustrating about The White Ribbon is that it is so beautiful that it makes you think there is more going on [artistically] than perhaps there is. This isn't a Limits of Control-scale con job, but it's not as far off as I would like. The White Ribbon is, as Michael Haneke puts it, "the origin of every type of terrorism, be it of political or religious nature." But really it just says that Violence/Intolerance is Taught. That's a powerful thesis, one of the most powerful you can undertake. What's also frustrating about The White Ribbon is that Haneke is clearly right, but that doesn't make his film compelling.

BJ, you are correct in your assessment of the film as to What it is saying, but I think this is all obvious during the film. Because the only character we can possibly connect to is the Teacher (who narrates, and falls in love much outside the circle of violence), we can only get so close what is happening to this town. I figured out Who Done It really quickly. The White Ribbon suggests that the confines of society are more important to the adults than their own progeny. They don't see the advancements of the twentieth century coming at all, so essentially they create a mass of children ripe for the Nazi movement, where they will feel inspired and rejuvenated after World War 1 and the Weimar Republic. So, The White Ribbon becomes one of those movies where you nod your head and understand, but this is all text that took two and a half monotonous hours to unspool.

Every scene in The White Ribbon more or less ends the same way: with a note of casual cruelty. It takes perhaps twenty minutes to reach this monotony, but once it does this will commence every scene essentially feeling the same for the rest of the film. Haneke's style is that of a mundane terrorist, which is not a great fit for The White Ribbon because he makes it feel flat, some scenes (none of which are very long) almost interchangeable. And because the characters only deepen with added nominal cruelty, it's not like there is anything to look deeper at. I was looking forward to The White Ribbon and I wasn't incredibly bored by it because it is just so goddamn beautiful to look at. Had I seen this before the precursors, I would have without hesitation predicted it for the across the board sweep it picked up. This is the year's best cinematography.

You cite the schoolteacher as the stand-in for Haneke. The Baroness was essentially standing-in for me if had gone to the bathroom (which I didn't, but I wanted to; and not because I had to). She says that she is leaving the Baron because she has had enough of this village of petty revenge, suffering, bigotry, etc. I felt that about this movie and increasingly about Haneke's movies in general. I can only get in so deep. Had I seen Code Unknown on the big screen, I might be more enthusiastic about it; right now, it's my favorite of his by far, as I cannot quite bring myself to watch Funny Games. Sadly for the Baroness, World War I broke up and I am unsure as to her fate.

It's like Haneke's Precious, but longer, better directed, prettier, and with a less funny retarded child.
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Postby Okri » Tue Jan 05, 2010 10:41 pm

Hmmmm.... I wish I liked it as much as you.

My biggest issue was that I felt the allegorical underpinning was quite weak. I remember being quite startled when a character mentioned the assassination of the Archduke in the film because it just didn't seem like it fit. I didn't buy the world as presented. Glorious cinematography though (my favourite moment was the funeral sequence and moments before). I saw it two and half months ago, though, and very little has stuck with me (compare that to A Prophet, which feels as if I watched it yesterday, in terms of the big guns from forei).

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Postby The Original BJ » Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:39 pm

I hope everyone gets a chance to see The White Ribbon, partly because I'm DYING to hear some reactions and interpretations of the film from people here. As for my own take, I can't say that I adored it -- some of it I found perplexing, distant, and occasionally too long. But, while watching the film, I had no doubt I was seeing something significant and very rich, the product of a grand and singular vision.

I think your mileage on a film like this will vary based on how much "mysteries with no solution" appeal to you. And I have to be honest and admit that it's not my favorite type of film. At the beginning of The White Ribbon, I was hugely intrigued by the bizarre events plaguing the film's characters...but as the movie went on, I did start to feel like less was less, that I wanted more answers to the film's mysteries, instead of just, well, MORE mysteries.

But then I realized that I think the central question to The White Ribbon is not WHO is committing these atrocities, but WHY these atrocities are being committed. Once I started thinking about the film that way, a lot of its pieces fell into place for me. In some ways, one can obviously interpret the film's literal horrors as metaphors for the nightmarish actions of many of the town's members -- the way they treat their family members, lovers, and friends. But, if one takes all the film's "events" at face value, it's also a shocking examination of the way mob mentality manifests itself. (One can see a direct line from "From Caligari to Hitler" to this film -- The White Ribbon certainly suggests how some of Germany's children at the turn of the century could become the Germans who dominated politics during the WWII era.)

The film's basis in allegory is also quite clear. The three major town figures -- the baron, the doctor, and the pastor -- can be seen as emblems of business, medicine, and religion, and I think one of the major ideas of the film is the way that the adherence to these power structures (including the hypocritical adherence to them) can lead to the evils that develop in town. The fourth major male character is the schoolteacher, literally the academic who analyzes the events of the film from a distance (and in some ways, he serves as a stand-in figure for Haneke).

Haneke's direction is less overtly jolt-inducing than some of his other films (there's nothing here rivaling the violence of Funny Games or Cache), but he's still got a number of very compellingly filmed sequences. One involves a young boy going in and out of doors -- we don't see what's behind each of them, but we know what will be behind one of them, and the tension that builds is palpable. The discovery of what happens to the retarded boy was chilling. And the film has one of the most effective single cuts in any film this year -- not only does the bridge between two scenes contrast extremes of sexual restraint and indulgence, but it initially made me think something completely different (and far more disturbing) was happening in the second scene than actually was. It's to Haneke's credit as a director that he's able to so often suggest even greater horrors than he shows.

One last thought: the cinematography is probably the year's best. The lighting in the black-and-white images is striking. But the compositions are even more impressive -- numerous scenes take place in meticulously composed long shots, and the whole film looks not like an old photograph from the era, but like a slightly artificial, even forced attempt to replicate one (reinforcing the far-off allegory nature of the story.) And the film manages to visually incorporate the title quite often, as numerous images appear to have bands of white "ribbons" at the top or bottom of the frames. Sometimes even the sheer amount of information in the images is impressive (especially, but not limited to the last shot, in which most of the film's characters are visible.)

I'm not betting on a Cinematography Oscar nod -- I bet Ed Wood's Stefan Czapsky can tell you that critics' prizes can only go so far for black-and-white films. But I'm definitely rooting for it. Here's also to hoping the normally bone-headed Foreign Film branch doesn't snub a film this provocative and unnerving. I couldn't always wrap my head around it, but it really got under my skin.


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