Heading into the final weekend of the Cannes Film Festival, Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon,” a somber black and white story set in a pre-war German village, feels like a front-runner for a big prize, if not the festival’s top award, the Palme d’Or. Of course, such prognosticating is impossible, but is a fun parlor game in the waning days of the fest.
Austrian-born director Haneke, a nine time veteran of the festival (this is his sixth time in competition), held his face in his hands when asked yesterday whether this year might be his year to win the big award at the festival.
Haneke’s latest, acquired for U.S distribution early on here in France by Sony Pictures Classics, evokes Reygadas’ “Silent Light” (while not framed by those long takes). Told through the voice of the town’s teacher, it is a deliberate study of the people in the town and their families and how they navitage the mystery surrounding accidents and strange occurences that are happening around the children in the village.
“It’s about the roots of evil,” Haneke explained here in Cannes, looking closely in his film at the kids in his movie (and at the adults who influence them). It’s a project he’s been working on for almost ten years, the filmmaker noted.
Reviewed yesterday by Eric Kohn in indieWIRE, the film was characterized as, “Pairing visual mastery with a quietly immersive story, ‘The White Ribbon’ plays like a morbid version of ‘Our Town’, patiently revealing the inward discord beneath the surface of a settled community. It’s a frightening depiction of mortality.”
“I wanted to present a group of children on whom absolute values are being imposed,” Haneke explained during a Cannes press conference. “What I was trying to say was that if someone adopts an absolute principle…when it becomes an absolute then it becomes in human.”
“One of the titles that I envisioned was ‘The Right Hand of God,'” Haneke offered, “That is that these characters take themselves to be the right hand of god, they understand the rules and the ideals and they follow then to the letter.
“They become people who punish based on those ideals,” Haneke noted, “Anyone who preaches an ideal cannot live up to it.
Despite being set just ahead of the start of World War I, Haneke has gone to great lengths to explain that his gaze aimed at implicating more than just the Germans, to include broader society.
“I don’t want this film to be taken only as a film on fascism,” Haneke explained, “To my mind, what I was setting out to do was to make a film that [says] any ideal will become perveted when it i transformed into an absolut. If we talk only aoout fascism, then it becomes easy to see it as a German problem.”
“No,” he concluded, “I think this is a film that concerns everybody.”