The White Ribbon

Rated 4.0

Up for a stately, foreign, Oscar-nominated, black-and-white film about misfortune and malevolence in a German village on the eve of the first World War? Well, if anyone can deliver such tidings in an art-house-appropriate package, it’s the Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke, who has been known, and appreciated, and derided, as something of a dandified sadist. What we have here, in this artfully suffocating atmosphere of aristocratic repression and its ominous impending consequences, is a cozy little cradle of fascism. As Haneke’s methodical accumulation of covert and corrosive depravity suggests, even the most outwardly orderly and peaceful human habitat can become a liability to the progress of civilization—a village of the mutually damning. Maybe it’s reassuring to write The White Ribbon off as pretentious highbrow horror, but that dismissal fails to account for the extraordinary dialogue, the perfect casting and the subtle enrichments of its shrewd performances, all quite striking to behold through the clear eye of Christian Berger’s cinematography.