Santa Cruz Good Times

Tuesday
Jan 27th
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

 

Force of Nature

Santa Cruz’s Carlie Statsky brings her love of the natural world to the hyper-personal art of wedding photography

 

Mercury Retrograde in Aquarius

The magical time of Mercury’s retrograde cycle is here once again, until Feb. 11, and then some. The Mercury retro cycle actually lasts eight weeks when we consider its retrograde shadow, giving us six months a year for review. We know the rules of Mercury retro: Be careful with everything; cars, driving, money, resources, friends, friendships, groups, interactions, thinking, talking, communications. Avoid big purchases, important meetings and important repairs. Mercury retrograde times are for review, reassessment and rest. Our minds are overloaded from the last Mercury retro. Our minds need to assess what we’ve done since October—eliminating what is not needed, keeping what’s important, preparing for new information in the next three months (till mid-May). Mercury in Aquarius retrograde … we reinvent ourselves, seek the unusual, we don’t hide, we’re just careful. We live in two worlds; outer appearances and inner reckonings, with both sides of our brain activated. Yet, like the light of the Gemini twins, one light waxes (inner world), the other (outer realities) wanes. Like Virgo, we see what’s been overlooked—assessing, ordering and organizing information. It’s an entirely inner process. When speaking we may utter only half of the sentence. We’re in the underworld, closer to Spirit, eyes unseeing, senses alerted, re-doing things over and over till we sometimes collapse. Because we’re in other realms, we’re wobbly, make mistakes, and don’t really know what we want. It’s not a time for decisions. Not yet. It’s a time of review. And completing things. Mercury retro: integration, slowing down, resolution, rapprochement.

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of January 23

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Bye Bye Benten!

Benten closing, plus Award-winning gin, a massive burrito and chocolate review

 

Trout Gulch Vineyards

Scanning the shelves of Deluxe Foods of Aptos, which carries an impressive selection of local and imported wines, I picked up a bottle of Trout Gulch Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, described as “a local favorite” by the busy market.

 

Cremer House

What’s old is cutting-edge again in Felton

 

How are you going to make a tangible difference in your community this year?

Spread more kindness and compassion.