A Serious Palme d'Or Contender: Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon
While Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds takes a look at how World War II could have turned out if his characters had actually existed, wildly inventive Austrian auteur Michael Haneke's brilliant The White Ribbon takes a look at how World War I saved a German town from self-destruction.
The prolific Austrian filmmaker returns to Cannes, his ninth time here and his sixth film in competition. Will his seventh competition film, The White Ribbon, finally get him the Palme d'Or? Early critical reaction around the Croisette sounds promising -- and it can't hurt that Isabelle Huppert, whom Haneke directed to a Best Actress prize here in 2002's The Piano Teacher, is heading up the jury.
Ten years in the making, the black-and-white film tells the brutal tale of the goings-on in a German village from 1913 to 1914, on the eve of World War I. We're introduced to various families in the village, perhaps none more strict and conservative than that of the stern and ultimately hateful Protestant pastor. He raises his gaggle of children with fascistic discipline, going so far as tying down the arms of his son, whom he suspects of masturbating.
"I wanted to project a group of children in whom absolute values were being imposed," Haneke explained this morning at the film's press conference.
Filmmaker Michael Haneke with the young cast of The White Ribbon [Photo: WireImage]
Aside from the preacher, we're introduced to a schoolteacher, who narrates the film, the miserable Baron and his equally miserable wife, destitute tenant farmers, a midwife, and a sadistic doctor, who participates in one of the finest and most punishing scenes in the film, a back-and-forth between him and his sad wife. The blistering dialogue comprises some of the harshest insults ever exchanged between two film characters.
"I don't want this film to be taken as just a film on fascism," Haneke said when asked about Ribbon's themes. "What I was setting out to make is a film that says any ideal will become perverted when it is formed to an absolute. It's not meant to be just a German problem, it's a problem for everybody."
As expected from the director responsible for such films as Caché and Funny Games, violence is another theme revisited in his latest work. "In other films I've dealt with the representation of violence and the way it's represented in the media," he said. "Here, what counts for me is to find a sufficient representation of violence."
Don't expect Haneke to explain too much. "An artist is somebody who should ask questions and not give answers," he said. "I try to present questions and a world and situation, not setting out to pose answers or solutions."