LFF #2 -- The White Ribbon

From the London Film Festival: Michael Haneke delves into the past

The White Ribbon
dir: Michael Haneke

It's 1913, we are in a pious Protestant village in northern Germany, and all is not well. A series of strange incidents has upset the village: the doctor has been thrown from his horse, a peasant farmer's wife is killed in an accident, and the landowner's son is kidnapped and beaten. As the film progresses, the upstanding parishioners are revealed to be less than upstanding in private, and the local children develop a sinister, Village of the Damned look about them. Narrated by the local schoolteacher who is looking back on these events in old age, and with the film ending just as the First World War breaks out, The White Ribbon is full of doomy historical portents. Cruelty abounds here, but does it reside in the hearts of the adults, or in their children? The latter, after all, would grow up to be the generation that built the Third Reich.

Haneke is too sophisticated a film-maker to provide easy answers, and for those who disliked the way his last work, Funny Games, bashed you over the head (almost literally) with its message, this will come as a relief. The film's stark black and white -- and I mean really stark: shadowy interiors compete with almost blinding shots of snowdrifts and wheat fields -- gives a ghostly sheen to the affair. The closing shot is particularly haunting: a slow fade to black as the villagers line up in church, their faces resembling those of a long-dead army regiment, peering out of a decomposing photograph.

Next up: Romania's "golden age" uncovered.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Karen Bradley as Culture Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The most politically charged of the culture minister's responsibilities is overseeing the BBC, and to anyone who works for - or simply loves - the national broadcaster, Karen Bradley has one big point in her favour. She is not John Whittingdale. Her predecessor as culture secretary was notorious for his belief that the BBC was a wasteful, over-mighty organisation which needed to be curbed. And he would have had ample opportunity to do this: the BBC's Charter is due for renewal next year, and the licence fee is only fixed until 2017. 

In her previous job at the Home Office, Karen Bradley gained a reputation as a calm, low-key minister. It now seems likely that the charter renewal will be accomplished with fewer frothing editorials about "BBC bias" and more attention to the challenges facing the organisation as viewing patterns fragment and increasing numbers of viewers move online.

Of the rest of the job, the tourism part just got easier: with the pound so weak, it will be easier to attract visitors to Britain from abroad. And as for press regulation, there is no word strong enough to describe how long the grass is into which it has been kicked.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.