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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

DAS WEISSE BAND / THE WHITE RIBBON (2009)


Michael Haneke earned his Palme d’Or @ Cannes with this mesmerizing look into the haunted soul of a small German village. It’s a Grimm fairy tale without resolution or moral; a parable that ends not in a whimper, but with the bang of WWI. Haneke unpeels the usual layers of small town society: the parson & his family; the aristocratic landowners; the bachelor school teacher & the servant girl he gently courts; the peasants & skilled laborers who bring in the harvest and sharpen the tools. But this German OUR TOWN is seen THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY. Haneke does a brilliant job handling multiple storylines & characters, and he paces for the long view. (The film runs about two & a half hours, but he could have gone ten.) Initially, we’re drawn in by the spasms of unexplained violence: a doctor unhorsed by a trip wire; a barn set ablaze; a handicapped child senselessly attacked; abductions; a suicide; and dozens of small personal acts of cruelty. Even a cabbage patch can become victimized. Acts of tenderness & good will stand out from the rhythm of their lives, an echo to the pastoral beauty of the fields which open before us in stunning b&w WideScreen images. Is the interpersonal chill a defense against the horror . . . or the cause of it? Ultimately, the rapt tone Haneke holds on to is the human fascination with itself, even at its worst. And we sense that the German catastrophe of the last century, the path from Caligari to Hitler, wasn’t brought on by the leaders, but by the led.

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