Monday, 26 October 2009

Das weisse Band (The White Ribbon), Michael Haneke, Germany/ France/ Austria/ Italy, 2009

German filmposter for The White Ribbon

During a recent visit to Germany I had the opportunity to see Haneke's Palme D'Or winner, Das weisse Band, which has recently been submitted as Germany's entry for next year's Oscar race.
As a result of having followed the making of this film while it was still in production, I was somewhat underwhelmed by its actual topic or, if you will, argument - of how the militarism and nationalism of imperial Germany may have served as breeding ground for fascism. However, it is to Haneke's credit, that the words National Socialism or fascism are never mentioned in the film and that he never once claims to have all the answers. What Haneke, who was born in Munich in 1944, does do, though, is hinting at a possible explanation as to how 'the strange events that happened in this small, northern German village may be connected to other events that occurred some time later', as the film's narrator cryptically explains. In his film, Haneke merely suggests, but never makes any claims he may not be able to prove.
The film's subtitle says that it is 'a German story for children', and children indeed are the villains in his film. But these children, who were molded and educated according to strict Prussian rules, were consenting adults in 1933, when their country succumbed to Nazism - and they, presumably, along with it.
While all this may seem vague to some and pretentious or questionable to others, the film's true strength is its mise-en-scene, notably the camera work by Christian Berger. Filmed entirely in black and white, Haneke successfully manages to avoid nostalgia, painting a claustrophobic, bleak, almost eerie, picture of a Germany on the onset of WWI. This claustrophobia, of course, matches the theme of the film perfectly.

German actress Susanne Lothar, the former wife of the late Ulrich Muehe (Das Leben der anderen, Germany 2006)

The performances are excellent throughout, particularly by Haneke-regular Susanne Lothar, who starred in virtually all his previous German films. In Das weisse Band, she portrays a midwife who has an affair with the local doctor, gets ditched by same under a vicious torrent of abuse, but also is the sole person in the whole town prepared to do act against the violence and brutality which have held the whole village in their grip.

Michael Haneke receiving the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival