More macabre, please

As you might already know, Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” (which I reviewed for the Cardinal in January) is now playing at Sundance Cinemas. “The White Ribbon” is the most intellectually complete and has the most striking surfaces of any of Haneke’s films to date. The Isthmus’ Kenneth Burns, however, is less than impressed:

Watching, I got antsy. No one loves a creepy-villagers movie more than I do. Let’s hear it for the 1973 Wicker Man! But The White Ribbon is more in the disappointing vein of M. Night Shyamalan’s limp The Village. Other than a handful of genuinely weird sights, there’s just not enough of the macabre in The White Ribbon to sustain interest.

I’m not so sure that creepiness and appeals to the macabre were what Haneke was going for; “The White Ribbon,” far from being a horror film in the conventional sense, is a work of social psychology, though the analysand isn’t any one particular character in the narrative so much as it’s the historical milieu in which the characters are situated.

If “The White Ribbon” is indeed horrifying, it’s not because Haneke deliberately designed passages of the film to scare audiences shitless; a pop-out moment is nowhere near as terrifying as some of the film’s implications regarding the relationship between puritanical values and casual psychopathology—an evil more plausible and immediate than anything in your run-of-the-mill “creepy-villagers movie.”

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2 Responses to “More macabre, please”

  1. Todd Stevens Says:

    I’m not sure I enjoyed White Ribbon as much as you (I still thought it was well done, but I think it’s a level below Cache on Haneke’s filmography) but you’re spot on about Burns’ critique. Haneke, for once, really isn’t trying to shock anybody here. This isn’t Funny Games (original or US) and there’s definitely no moment that compares to that one shot that everybody remembers from Cache. This is about greater societal problems concerning generational relationships, community transgressions and the incredible ability humanity has to look the other way when the most horrifying of events is happening right under our noses. Burns seemed to be expecting some sort of period thriller where the school teacher picks up a shotgun in the third act and starts blowing away all of the town evildoers, then goes home to screw his fiance senseless – which would be kind of an interesting direction for Haneke to go in, but wouldn’t be The White Ribbon.

  2. Leather Mallet Says:

    […] More macabre, please « CineMadison […]

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