Michael Haneke has garnered a lot of attention throughout the years — mostly because of his signature brand of films. His directorial debut, “The Seventh Continent,” laid down a blueprint for his later films, namely his critically-acclaimed drama “The Piano Teacher.” His latest release, “The White Ribbon,” opens today, and it shows that Haneke would work better as a philosopher rather than a director.
The plot is as follows: Strange events happen in a small village in the north of Germany during the years just before World War I, which seem to be ritual punishment. The abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of this mystery.
I don’t usually resort to quoting a synopsis in my reviews, but for “The White Ribbon,” it’ll have to do. I’ve seen the film only hours ago, but I cannot remember the names of the characters — another rare occurrence for me. These “characters” (and I use the term loosely) are nothing more than paper-thin cut-outs that aid the spread of Haneke’s nihilistic philosophy. They commit unspeakable acts of terror before the audience and its hard to even care.
The main problem with Haneke’s direction is that he isn’t afraid to induce boredom, frustration or disgust — but in “The White Ribbon,” it’s mostly boredom. The acting is instantly forgettable and the pacing is downright atrocious. Perhaps the only thing done right is his decision to film in black and white as it clearly sets the atmosphere for the entire film — for better or for worse.
I usually don’t mind if a director has opposing views than mine, but in “The White Ribbon,” its just unbearable. Haneke creates this inescapable hell where the only antidote for the characters is death. There is no sense of purity just pure depravity. In one notable scene, a father rapes his daughter and in another a child is brutally beaten and there is no sense of guilt exerted from either the child abuser nor the father. Haneke is a sadist and his adoring fans are masochists; “The White Ribbon” serves as nothing but a shameless manifesto for his ideals. He argues that people are no longer able to hate — or love for that matter — but I can honestly say that I hated this film.
In all, its extremely hard to recommend “The White Ribbon” to anyone. I do enjoy intellectually bleak films, but this proved too much for me. I left the theater both frustrated at Haneke’s in-your-face approach but also half-asleep because there were absolutely no saving graces. More tears have rolled down my face while watching ASPCA commercials and these limping cats and dogs have more character than any of the film’s protagonists.
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