The White Ribbon (2009)
The second film of our winter season was in stark contrast to the first, (feelgood Irish documentary His & Hers). As always with Haneke much is left unsaid or hinted at with mysterious events threatening the status quo of seemingly normal society, in this case, a small village in Northern Germany on the eve of the First World War. Visually and thematically recalling the Scandinavian austerity of Dreyer and Bergman (but with a devastating frankness all its own), it also exudes a mise-en-scène mastery worthy of Hitchcock. And as with Hitchcock, at heart the mystery is a McGuffin, a means to darker moral ends. Haneke isn't interested in who kidnapped the children or burned down the barn, his real concern is in what these events reveal about family life and society at large. We watch religious repression and social conformity incubate violence and intolerance, ordinary youthful vitality and exuberance denounced in the name of idealised goodness. It's not too difficult to imagine these children twenty years later, conditioned by stern authority and desire for purity, voting for a regime promising them both. With stunning black and white photography capturing every child's face in vibrant close-up, faces brimming with confusion, hurt, trust and defiance, The White Ribbon will linger long in the mind.