In the Dark

A Cold and Distant Mirror

The White Ribbon
Produced by Canal+ and Wega Film
Written and directed by Michael Haneke
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics

 

German director Michael Haneke loves to sneer at his middle-class patrons.  In Funny Games (1997, remade in the United States in 2007) and Caché (2005), his affluent characters are shown to be at once odious and craven.  In his latest effort, The White Ribbon, we discover they’re natural Nazis too.  And for this enlightenment, Hane­ke has been honored by bourgeois saps around the world, including the saps at that most bourgeois of redoubts, the Golden Globes, who have hailed Ribbon as 2009’s best foreign film.

Haneke’s thesis is that fascism took hold in 20th-century Germany because the nation’s seemingly respectable citizenry tolerated child abuse, female subjugation, and sexual repression—especially sexual repression.  To make his case, he takes us back to 1913 and dramatizes a series of lurid fictional events besetting Eichwald, a farming village in northern Germany.  We are to understand the hamlet was feverish with perversity and malcontent on the eve of World War I.

The narrative is told through the eyes of a village schoolteacher.  “I’m not sure if the story I’m about to tell you corresponds to what actually took place,” he begins. ...

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