Saturday, January 9, 2010

The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band)

Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" is a 144-minute, black-and-white intimate profile that's as "unrelenting" and "draining" (my friend and Richard Corliss, respectively) as it sounds, as Haneke is "the master of disquiet" (to quote Denby, I believe). The film's best quality is that it examines many a family during a period of distress in a town as tightly knit as you might imagine. It's one of those small epics. Believe me, though, its presence is felt.

Haneke does what he does often here, creating a plot of “incidents” and “events,” (words used in the vague summaries of the film). In the way he worked with increasingly threatening videotapes in “Cache,” here he starts with a relatively small moment (a doctor crashing into a perfectly placed “tripwire”) that continue to get bigger and bigger until things get really serious. The film commences immediately with the aforementioned episode and shows its impact, which seems like an effective device in a couple of ways: 1) it sets the film moving in an interesting direction and 2) it also both (eventually) raises the thought of both a originally a total clean slate or a slate that’s been cleaned before the film has began, a very interesting idea raised indirectly by my friend (who liked the movie more than I did) and also “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”


This injury prompts suspicion and a change or two, but it is soon forgotten, for the reason that my friend said: to keep the town together. The town already has fractured relations among its inhabitants, yes, but my friend notes the town would go to pieces if such a person were apprehended. This seems to be a correct reading.


I don’t know much more what to say about the film without giving stuff away (I understand why promoters of the film didn’t do that, but a Film Comment interview with Haneke hinted at it). Let me discuss how the film is made. Haneke himself said the film was converted to B&W after being shot in color due to the fear of looking historically inaccurate. This is true, but perhaps it’s also to emphasize the film’s focus on white as a color of innocence. It is also (as my friends said) to have the film have a huge impact. If you only watch color, this is not a good film at all for you. In the theater I was in, save for the faces next to me and the orange aisle light, it seemed completely colorless. When my friend said it was beautifully shot, he wasn’t kidding. It’s a job well done by cinematographer Christian Berger, who sets things up nicely for the effects team to get rid of the colors. The only technical issue is the somewhat spasmodic editing before scenes got to their conclusion. This was pretty annoying.


As a friend said, it’s engrossing. I find its structure really helpful in bringing you in (as well as the way there was no color at all anywhere around me). My mind, though, was wandering a lot. My friends said that the film had “no uplift.” This is right, and that means there are no “emotional hooks” in the film. That doesn’t stop the film from smashing into you, especially in the end. I agree with A.O. Scott’s comment that the film is “unsettling yet unsatisfying.” Ebert said, “At Cannes the year “Cache” premiered critics deplored its lack of a resolution” while going onto praise that aspect of the film. Haneke likes to do this, and in both cases it’s perhaps justified, but what a long time to wait for so little to ultimately come. The same thing happened with “Police, Adjective,” even though both films are good.


“The White Ribbon” I think is good but (for me) not the "masterpiece" IMDB users called it. I personally liked “Cache” better, a more intriguing film that had more interest in different ways. I enjoyed how this film was “personal.” Haneke (as been said before) is good at that. But this film is not one for anyone (and I know some) who resent a lack of color, "depressing" movies (worthy of a tag on Aspergian Sarah), or as Ebert helpfully noted, films with "a lack of a resolution." Don't get yourself into this film without making sure you're okay with those criteria, since this film has a lot of all three. B

10 comments:

aspergiansarah said...

Hey! I was just skimming this review and I saw Aspergian Sarah! I wasn't entirely sure whether your comment was complimentary when you associated me with 'depressing movies,' but still, I'm honored. I haven't seen anything by Haneke.

I saw they were selling the Americanized "Funny Games" at the store, but I thought, wouldn't watching nearly two hours of sexual, physical, and emotional torture (including a little boy- and they pull the 'fido' card) more of a one time thing? Seems like a rent once.

Also, I *heard* that a real dog was injured in the making of "Cache," but have no one to verify. Was there a dog death, and was it staged or real (being it's foriegn, PETA wouldn't be so much on their ass?)

If Michael Haneke is going to condemn Americans for liking the shock value of Quentin Tarantino, yet he'd hurt an innocent animal, he's the most pretentious hypocrite on earth. If this is bunk, I'd watch something by him. Not starting with "Funny Games," maybe.

In curiosity, why is it you know I have a masochistic compulsion to watch depressing films? Did I mention something on that earlier? I get flack on my viewing interests (among other things.) My little sister puts it most blatantly "You're weird." Thank you much. of course my mom pretty much ignores it til I make unkind remarks on her personality.

Nick Duval said...

Yeah, the "depressing" thing-- I found it on your website. That's pretty cool that you have a tag for that. I have no clue whether a dog was killed (I think it would have been in "Funny Games," not "Cache") but Haneke is known as "the master of disquiet" so it wouldn't be surprised. If he did, it would be ever more part of his oeuvre. The one who really hates America is Lars Von Trier, who's made exceptionally critical films.

You should start with "Cache." Also my first Haneke. But pay attention to every detail. It's a very, very, very hard film to crack. You should check out Ebert's Great Movie review. I had only seen his theatrical review of it. There was definitely a difference between the two.

--Nick

aspergiansarah said...

A horse, in Haneke's "The Time of the Wolf." Allegedly. If someone can disprove this, I will be more than happy to watch "Cache," which I borrowed from the library once but didn't put in the DVD player.

I don't have much problem with iffy content, I just can't overlook some sadistic hypocrite's publicity stunt with a clear conscience.

I hear Von Trier doesn't like us much. Is it *all* Americans, or just the government? I hear that "Breaking the Waves" is rather brilliant, I fell asleep during "Dancer in the Dark" (not the movie's fault, I was tired) and it was taken of the computers days later.

Rented "Dogville" but skipped it. Do you like Lars Von Trier? If so, is there one you'd recommend. I know a guy who was quite enamored with "Dogville" and Dogme 95.

I sometimes like brain-bending films but they can be rather pretentious too. The arty ones are often morbidly interesting if imbued with substance (note- beware indie directors who like making movies about schizophrenics.)

"Gosford Park," a very plot-complex rather than trippy movie, was kind of interesting to watch but annoying too because it took abut an hour to attempt to fathom who the characters were.

I heard an actor I've been following was in there, but I hardly got a glimpse. At the end I felt somewhat cheated, but I also sort of wanted to watch it again so I could figure out the characters and the mystery better. I had to admire all that Robert Altman put into it.

Nick Duval said...

Von Trier just doesn't like Americans in general from what I know. But from what I've heard it has something to do with how we were involved in slavery, etc. for a long period of time. I've actually seen only one Von Trier, and it's extremely trippy: "Europa." It's set on a train and has all these weird techniques like switching from black and white to color and using back projection for other uses than showing a background while driving a car.

"Time of the Wolf" I really want to see. I'm not sure if he killed a horse. Probably it was digital, like my friend said, since a horse was "hurt" in "The White Ribbon," too, but it looked really jerky, so it could be seen as digital (I think it also served another effect, too). Haneke I don't think is a "sadist." I mean he's widely respected, and I dunno.

Von Trier's kind of a freaky individual. My friend constantly berates Tarantino, but let's face it: Von Trier seems to as much into violence (or shows as much of it) as Tarantino.

--- Nick

aspergiansarah said...

Well, there's no reason for Lars Von Trier for hate ALL Americans. I've never owned a slave, and none of my neighbors have either (I think.) A lot of indie-type directer are odd/disturbed, I guess.

Did you know that cult phenomenon Harmony Korine allegedly attempted to make a documentary of himself starting fights with random strangers?

A guy I like, Simon Rumley, wishes to make 'movies about death and killing as well the hopelessness and degradation of illness' (not a direct quote)'

On the plus side (?), he also likes 'characters who, despite the evils they perpetrate, are not actually evil,' an excellent moral ambiguity he used in his disquieting if disjointed debut, "The Living and the Dead" (one of those arty indie movie about schizophrenics, by the way.)

Clearly he believes his vision is worth many negative reviews (some of which say that his work is 'sick, bad, garbage, shite, disgusting, pathetic, and ludicrous' which is kinda pretentious but admirable. Whether his 'vision' is something the world needs to see...? ah, never mind.

Anyway, a directer who dedicates 10 minutes to a disturbed and delusional guy shoving needles into his arm and screaming in pain, plus an elderly lady force-feeding scene, has some emotional issues.

I am one who is willing to be in league with his masochistic film making. Maybe in some years time he'll think less about his mum dying and cheer up.

Critical acclaim- it's what must keep these depressed indie directors going, despite mainstream loathing.

By the way, Michael Haneke is not sadistic if his killing are staged. But if he injures animals for shock value despite his pretentious morality, I will not approve of it and I will not watch it.

Nick Duval said...

I think Haneke staged all of his killings (at least by some research). When they say he killed an animal in all of his films, they mean that it was within the film, and not to be mistaken for actually slaying it. I hope that's liberating. Go watch Cache.

Simon Rumley definitely has "emotional issues" or something. Sounds like a pretty harsh movie he's made.

Von Trier seems one of the most cantankerous directors (or even people) to walk the face of the Earth. He does a lot of weird stuff. Directing Bjork to the point of insanity in "Dancer in the Dark" (I've heard from The Playlist that she has said she will never ever ever act again), "teasing" his favorite director by making fun of his attempts at films in "The Five Obstructions," etc. I don't think you should take it to heart that this guy hates America. He's never even been.

-- NICK

aspergiansarah said...

Ah, that is comforting. I will probably go watch "Cache," being that my worries about unfortunate animal co-stars who can't collect their pay if they're dead) have been (sorta) laid to rest.

I hear Bjork was good, but Von Trier should of given her some breathing space, or at least paid extra with his obsession. Nobody want to be in a movie when directors are suffocating them. Maybe Bjork should try again, just... not with Lars Von Trier?

Simon Rumley. I gave him an e-mail that was answered quickly, which led to a funny but annoying story I'll tell some time. I'm actually very happy I got it, even though I was supremely irritated by the response. I can't however prove to my younger brother I didn't forge the letter from a REAL directer.

Speaking of my brother- okay, one day he said if I actually obtained this certain movie (very obscure) he might watch it with me, just to see what the hype is about, even though it's not his forte (he likes action and comedy.)

Though it's NOT considered an 11-year-old movie, being that it was just sad and confusing rather than ultra-violent (blood freaks him out.) so I agreed. Than I obtained the movie. I asked while he was playing the love of his life, the X-Box, if he'd watch it. "Tomorrow."

So I sat through another boring day, eager to watch it (haven't seen it in a year) and discuss it with him. So at night- "Do you wanna watch it?" "Sure, but I probably won't like it, so pay $5."

??? I have NO money so I have to wander off digging through my room for items I can give, while the little twit plays his X-Box. So, I spent the rest of the night doing nothing, and have been telling everyone since that my brother is a low-down dirty deceiver.

Moral- don't trust siblings when they agree to watch arty movies with you 'just to see what the hype is about.' I guess he'll be sticking with "Transformers."

Adelaide Dupont said...

If Hanecke did the killings in real life, it would be a snuff film.

I am trying to remember the film where he had these guys dressed in golf uniforms and they invaded somebody's house and haunted it.

My favourite Von Trier thus far is Dogville because it is just like a stage play and the character that Nicole Kidman plays.

The DVD extras were edifying too.

I also quite liked The Idiots and Dancer in the Dark. (There was some savage workplace violence in the latter, and emotional cruelty in the former).

Nick Duval said...

The movie you're thinking of is "Funny Games."



-----Nick

Literary Dreamer said...

I think The White Ribbon is one of those films that absorb you to the point where you can't figure out if it was a really great film or not because you were spending so much time paying attention to the details and (in my case) enjoying yourself (also, I knew ahead of time that there wasn't really a resolution, or rather, what Haneke wants us to figure out is what he's trying to say about humanity through this story of a village, and about the nature of evil, versus figuring out who committed these crimes). Certainly one, like Waking Life, that shouldn't be completely judged on its first, second, or even third viewing.

Also, thanks for becoming a follower on my blog. :-)