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THE WHITE RIBBON

Director: MICHAEL HANEKE

AUSTRIA-GERMANY-FRANCE-ITALY • 2009 SUBTITLED • BLACK & WHITE • DIGITAL • 144 MIN


WINNER OF THE PALME D’OR IN CANNES THIS YEAR, MICHAEL HANEKE’S LATEST ACHIEVEMENT BRINGS HIS CHARACTERISTICALLY CONTROLLED INTENSITY TO A DISTURBING PORTRAIT OF PRE-WWI GERMANY.

The Austrian writer-director deploys crisp black-and-white for his original story about a rural Protestant community where class hierarchies and agricultural cycles shape the seemingly settled rhythms of life. A series of shocking incidents disrupt this apparent calm, however: the doctor is injured when his horse is felled by a trip-wire, a farmhand takes revenge for his mother’s suspicious death in a saw mill, and the baron’s son is assaulted. In a world of stern codes of conduct, and a place where everyone seems to know each other’s business, the sequence of events is shocking, almost inexplicable. Could there really be a connection between these traumatising assaults on normality?

Over the course of 144 minutes, Haneke draws us deep into the mystery while allowing us to draw our own conclusions. His detractors often accuse him of didacticism, but that’s hardly the case here. For although it’s not unreasonable to discern the outline of Germany’s subsequent dark history within this carefully unfolding saga, its resonance is surely wider-reaching than that. The title comes from the ribbon the Pastor pins to his teenage son to ward off impure thoughts, representative, of course, of the themes which echo throughout the film — where moral authority is exercised by parents, landowners and clergy over those who are powerless to resist, creating a self-generating cycle of repression and resentment. Haneke continues to challenge our intelligence, intoxicate our imagination, and dazzle our senses. This is must-see cinema. — Trevor Johnston.

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