Santa Cruz Good Times

Sunday
Sep 21st
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Children Of The Damned

film_white_ribbonDisturbingly beautiful 'White Ribbon' ponders the nature of evil

Where does evil come from? Is it sheer, blind chance, an unfortunate genetic malfunction, a random fluke of an uncaring universe? Or is it seeded and grown like a living thing, to be rooted and nurtured in a particular hothouse environment of intolerance and injustice, malice, brutality and fear? Filmmaker Michael Haneke invites us to consider this question in The White Ribbon, his disturbingly beautiful drama that imagines life in a remote German village in the generation before Hitler's rise to power. More complex than a simple parable, it's a stately piece of dramatic fiction with the dread-generating intensity of a horror movie.

The film is expertly shot by cinematographer Christian Berger in deep, pearlescent black-and-white, full of ominous shadows and mystery, which reinforces the sense of a vintage horror movie. This feels appropriate to the unraveling of a mystery plot involving sinister doings among the villagers, but viewers expecting a crisp, conventional whodunit with a tidy resolution will be disappointed. Few answers emerge as the story plays out, only a burgeoning miasma of possibilities; the film's bold, graphic look provides ironic counterpoint to a drama in which nothing is ever completely black or white.

The story unfolds in a small agrarian hamlet, ca. 1913. In another year or so, the declaration of World War I will jump-start the new century with a vengeance, but for now, village life conforms to the feudal patterns of ancient times. Most of the families are tenant farmers working land owned by a powerful baron and his elegant wife. But even the lowliest peasant laborer is a feudal lord in his own home, where women and children alike are held captive in helpless obedience. Their children are taught by the meek, self-effacing young bachelor schoolteacher (Christian Friedel), who narrates the story as an old man recollecting events.

Over a few months, a series of suspicious and frightening incidents upset their orderly lives. The village doctor is seriously injured in a fall from his horse. A farmer's wife dies in an accident in the baron's mill house. Fire, suicide, attempted murder, and disappearing children all add to the villagers' unease. When the Pastor (Burghart Klaubner) demands his congregation root out the evil in its midst, as the schoolteacher recalls, it leads to "a flood of mutual suspicions and denunciations."

But as Haneke deftly reveals, the malaise is  already evident in every village household, in the ordinary course of daily life. Most children (including—indeed, especially—those of the smugly paternalistic pastor) are routinely brutalized by their fathers for minor infractions, either punched, slapped or physically, beaten, or psychologically abused. (The white ribbon of the film's title is a mark of shame tied to the arms of misbehaving youngsters to symbolize their "lost purity.")

Women and girls are confined in long, black dresses and severe braided buns, and neither wives, servants, housekeepers, nor daughters are exempt from the sexual demands or violent rages of their menfolk. The one moment of joy attached to a physical relationship—when a clumsy tryst with the doctor (Rainer Bock ) elicits a fleeting smile out of his stoic mistress (the wonderful Susanne Lothar)—is belied a few scenes later when he discards her with callous contempt.

This holy trinity of authority (church, state, science) remains impervious to reason, that is, the meek forays of the ineffectual schoolteacher to plumb its depths and ferret out the truth. And as these various interconnected stories play out, viewers too may find themselves stumbling over an accumulation of small details that never quite add up. It may be frustrating in retrospect trying to fit all the pieces together, but Haneke makes the point that few things in life are ever a simple matter of cause and effect, and the horrors visited on one generation can never entirely explain (much less excuse) whatever havoc they might wreak in the next. History may have its reasons, but they operate in the grey zone that defies easy comprehension.

THE WHITE RIBBON ★★★ Watch movie trailer >>>

With Christian Friedel, Burghart Klaubner, and  Rainer Bock.  Written and directed by Michael Haneke. A Sonly Classics release. Rated R. 140 minutes. In German with English subtitles.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Catwalk on the Wild Side

Meet the artists and designers behind this year’s edition of FashionART, SantaCruz’s most outrageous fashion show

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Watch List

From Google to the government to data brokers, why your privacy is now a thing of the past

 

The Peace Equation

Sunday is the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, a global peace-building day when nations, leaders, governments, communities and individuals are invited to end conflict, cease hostilities, creat 24 hours of non-violence and promote goodwill. Monday is Autumn equinox as the Sun enters Libra (right relations with all of life). The Soul Year now begins. We work in the dark part of the year (Persephone underground) preparing for the new light of winter solstice. Tuesday to Wednesday is the Virgo new moon festival. We know two things about peace. “The absence of war does not signify peace.” And “Peace is an ongoing process.” In its peace-building emphasis, the UNIDP, through education, attempts to create a “culture of peace, understanding and tolerance”. Esoterically we are reminded of the peace equation: “Intentions for goodwill (and acting upon this intention) create right relations with all earth’s kingdoms which create (the ongoing process of) peace on earth.” At noon on Sunday, in all time zones, millions of participating groups will observe a moment of silence for peace on earth. Bells will ring, candles will be lit, and doves released as the New Group of World Servers recite the Great Invocation (humanity’s mantram of direction). To connect with others around the world see www.cultureofpeace.org    Let us join together with the mother (Virgo). Goodwill to all, let peace prevail on earth. The dove is the symbol for the day.
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Sweet Treats

Local cannabis bakers win award for cookies

 

What fashion trends do you want to see, or not see?

Santa Cruz  |  High School Guidance Counselor

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Santa Clara Wine Trail

My memories of growing up in England include my mother pouring port after Sunday dinner—and sometimes a glass of sherry before dinner. My family didn’t drink much wine back then, but we certainly made up for it with the port and sherry.