Strong reviews for Haneke’s ‘White Ribbon’

Posted by · 8:33 am · May 21st, 2009

Michael Haneke's The White RibbonCould this year bring a close to Michael Haneke’s bridesmaid’s run at the Cannes Film Festival? Haneke has come within touching distance of the Palme d’Or before, taking the Grand Prix in 2001 for “The Piano Teacher” and Best Director in 2005 for “Caché,” but the big prize has so far eluded him.

Now Haneke’s latest, “The White Ribbon,” has screened to largely admiring reviews from the Cannes press. The film, a black-and-white, score-free period drama studying the social disintegration of rural German community, was written with the collaboration of master scripter Jean-Claude Carriere, and is now inspiring repeated comparisons to the work of Ingmar Bergman. Nonetheless, it apparently still serves up the clinical narrative jolts we have come to expect from Haneke. IndieWire’s Eric Kohn raves:

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.

With this detailed exploration of anonymous retribution, Haneke returns to the haunting terrain he last explored in “Cache,” although in this case, the retribution expands from a personal level to a larger critique of religious zealoutry. As the violent acts cumulate, they expand to the larger world surrounding the village – especially with the political assasination and the eruption of World War I closing the movie. However, these events remain notably off-screen. Absence in “The White Ribbon” is the quality that makes it a harrowing work of art, rather than a historical soap opera.

ScreenDaily’s Mike Goodridge is similarly impressed:

When he is on top form Michael Haneke’s artistry and unerring control of his material is hard to beat. And he is on top form in The White Ribbon, a meticulously constructed, precisely modulated tapestry of malice and intrigue in a rural village in pre-World War I northern Germany.

Aided by crisp, often startling images shot by Christian Berger, the film-maker weaves his web of storylines with a traditional voiceover, a linear narrative and fine period detail. At times, The White Ribbon is so rich it could be a mini-series, yet it is always a Haneke film, probing under the surface of appearances into the malevolence of the human soul.

The Guardian’s Xan Brooks, on the other hand, cannot fault the skill and craftsmanship on display, but is left a little cold by the enterprise:

The White Ribbon’s blend of formal, poetic compositions and hushed, simmering drama reminded me variously of Malick and Bergman, and if the picture finally does not quite achieve the level of a masterpiece, this may be down to the fact that I’ve always found Haneke to be a cold, stern and aloof director; the creator of films that I can admire but never love.

Chilliness has never exactly been a drawback to a film’s prospects at Cannes, though recent winners have shared a more humanistic streak. Haneke’s Palme d’Or chances could face a bigger obstacle in jury president Isabelle Huppert who, as a two-time collaborator with the filmmaker, might not want to risk accusations of bias.

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8 responses so far

  • 1 5-21-2009 at 9:21 am

    red_wine said...

    Mike D’Angelo reports these polls for AC Club.

    This is a poll of the French critics so far. These scores represent the average.


    A Prophet (Jacques Audiard): 3.40
    Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodóvar): 2.83
    Up (Pete Docter): 2.69
    Looking for Eric (Ken Loach): 2.47
    Bright Star (Jane Campion): 2.40
    Vincere (Marco Bellocchio): 2.08
    Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold): 2.00
    Taking Woodstock (Ang Lee): 1.87
    Vengeance (Johnnie To): 1.80
    Spring Fever (Lou Ye): 1.71
    Thirst (Park Chan-wook): 1.67
    Antichrist (Lars von Trier): 0.80
    Kinatay (Brillante Mendoza): 0.79
    Don’t Look Back (Marina de Van): 0.75

    And this Screen Daily’s poll of 4 critics only for competition films


    A Prophet (Jacques Audiard): 3.4
    Bright Star (Jane Campion): 3.3
    Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodóvar): 3.2
    Looking for Eric (Ken Loach): 2.9
    Vincere (Marco Bellocchio): 2.9
    Thirst (Park Chan-wook): 2.4
    Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold): 2.3
    Vengeance (Johnnie To): 2.1
    Taking Woodstock (Ang Lee): 2.0
    Antichrist (Lars von Trier): 1.6
    Spring Fever (Lou Ye): 1.6
    Kinatay (Brillante Mendoza): 1.2

    The our-right critical favorite is Un Prophet so it seems unlikely it will be dethroned in the coming days. I expect boos if it looses the Palm.

    Bright Star even if it misses the Palm will do well if it wins any 1 of the prizes and can launch a formidable attempt at the Oscars, its very Academy-friendly.

    And with Up being 1 of the best reviewed film in Cannes, better reviewed than most of the competition films, it makes you wish it had been in competition.

    Guy, is true that that Pixar was offered a competition slot & declined or if they were not offered a slot at all?

  • 2 5-21-2009 at 9:40 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Red_Wine: I don’t really know, but I’m guessing the programmers would have been game for including it in the lineup, given that both Shrek and (ugh) Shrek 2 played in competition. I highly doubt it would ever win with an international jury, though.

    As for A Prophet: yeah, it’s clearly the critical favourite so far, but don’t read too much into that. Remember that the jury is instructed to avoid reading the press, so they can quite often vote in a bubble. “Yi Yi” was a lot more critically favoured than “Dancer in the Dark” in 2000; ditto “Volver” versus “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” in 2006. Even “The Pianist” wasn’t the most popular winner with critics at the time.

  • 3 5-21-2009 at 10:51 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Haneke is a cold but brutally brilliant filmmaker. His films will always make you stop and think. Wether that is because he’s too distant or just not bothered with decent plot is up for grabs.

  • 4 5-21-2009 at 11:44 am

    Mike said...

    I knew Haneke would deliver. He was royally screwed over in 2005. Plus it will not hurt that Isabelle Huppert is jury president. There is still Noe’s Enter the Void for witch I have high hopes as well.

  • 5 5-21-2009 at 2:27 pm

    Colin said...

    His film will take a serious hit once it leaves France. Funny Games and Cache are culturally insignificant as will be White Ribbons.

  • 6 5-22-2009 at 1:40 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Funny Games and Cache are culturally insignificant”

    Really? Or do you just not like them?

    And Jonathan, “Cache” was fairly plotty, if you ask me.

  • 7 5-25-2009 at 7:44 am

    1minutefilmreview said...

    Hey, he won!