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7 October 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 4:07am

LFF #2 — The White Ribbon

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

By Daniel Trilling

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.

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