Happy Haneke

12 11 2009
The White Ribbon

'The White Ribbon'

OK, I admit it: that title doesn’t make a lot of sense. Pun-notwithstanding, there are very few film-makers working today who are less likely to branch out into light romantic comedy than Michael Haneke. In the last decade, with work like The Piano Teacher, Code Unknown and Hidden, the Austrian director has established a reputation for himself as the master of certain kind of austere, serious and confrontational cinema that is about as far from Hollywood schmalz as it’s possible to get.

This week sees the UK release of Haneke’s latest film, The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band), in which he tells the story of a small German farming community plagued by a series of unexplained outrages sometime before the outbreak of World War One. A barn is burned down, a tripwire throws a doctor from his horse, and the local baron’s son is beaten by assailants unknown. The powers-that-be – the baron, the pastor, the doctor – respond to this anarchy with a wave of violent discipline against their social inferiors and the children of the village. These latter will, we realise, grow up to form part of the Nazi generation, and Haneke has spoken of setting out to explore the movement’s roots in the kind of repressive, petty and suspicious community portrayed in the film. 

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