Michael Haneke is still asking the same questions. The context, the people involved in the stories he tells, they don't matter; or at least not as much as what lies behind them. We can easily discover this if we try to read the script of "The White Ribbon", an original story by Haneke that is told, from the beginning, by the voice in off of a teacher. Eventually we learn that this teacher is a part of the story, but he doesn't even remember it well. We could imagine any other details if the images and the settings weren't the ones we see on screen and we were left only with the narrated dialogue.
There's a small village, apparently normal and functional, when suddenly strange accidents begin to happen. That's all we need to know about the plot of Haneke's latest adventure: an adventure for him, to shoot, an adventure for the viewer to experience; a very particular adventure that doesn't have any element we might identify with the word 'adventure' in cinema. But it's always nice to remember that cinema itself is an adventure; and that comes before any genre definitions.
With absolutely no music and with a beautiful, classic black and white cinematography (thank you Christian Berger, for providing a work that we don't need to detail in words because it's right there), Haneke deploys his cinematographic strategy. The strategy has to do, naturally, with the questions he's going to ask. What's important is that it is cinematographic. Viewers, critics, people in general have always been discussing the same thing: how filmmakers leave the viewer wondering, without being able to understand some things when a film is over. Why did this character do that? Why did that character say that? Why did the other one left that thing in that place?
There are directors who have always offered more questions than answers, providing a way of filming and a depiction of characters that justify not knowing. I think the Richard Kelly of "Donnie Darko", or most of David Lynch. These authors not only talk about many things; they also try to distort life, the nature of things as we know them. I mean, they are the guys we shouldn't ask "why did you put the red rose in that drawer?" or those types of questions that they probably can't answer. The eternal discussion mentioned above also has to do with the fact that we can't pretend a director to control every decision and visual aspect of a film.
However, and although this may not be true, Haneke always seems in control. This is related to the fact that the world he depicts can never make the viewer doubt what we call verisimilitude. The village in "The White Ribbon" is a possible place because its basic way of functioning and the people who make it function are the things that make any small village function, with a system that prevails in many places of the world today, whatever the technical development. There's a Baron (a landlord) and his wife, there's a Pastor and his wife, there's a Doctor and his family, there's a Farmer, there's a school and there's a Teacher. Yes, as I said and as it occurs with every story, things happen. But I leave the development for the viewer's enjoyment.
Let me just say I admire "The White Ribbon" for several reasons, all which have to do with the same thing. If we think for a minute, Haneke is talking to us about the most basic things and feelings in life, those that come from the core of human relationships and kids can understand and explain in an early stage of their lives (it's not casual that many of the characters –some very important- in the film are little kids). But he does this with such rigor and command of the cinematographic language that everything acquires a new dimension.
One can never question that "The White Ribbon" belongs to a high level of movies we tend to relate with art, or whatever...It's designed that way. And within that design, among the mysteries floating in every perfectly composed shot, we understand. The ending arrives and comprehension arrives with it in a magnified form; magnified by the experience of the (a) movie. Michael Haneke (whom I consider, as you may perceive, a very generous filmmaker) is still asking the same questions, never offering answers about a (our) world that sometimes finds its most complex representations entangled with what's most simple and pure.
The questions this time around sound a bit more like assertions. Not definite statements but warnings. And I believe (or I would be contradicting myself and this review) that these warnings are also in the level of the basic things, and they are only a few, maybe one. Yes, of course we had our suspicions, but learning about it like this makes it resonant, powerful...Utterly unbearable.
0 out of 5 found this helpful