The White Ribbon

March 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Christian Friedel, Burghart Klaussner, Leonie Benesch
Directed by: Michael Haneke (“Caché”)
Written by: Michael Haneke (“Caché”)

There is certainly a reason that the German film “The White Ribbon,” which won the top prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, is the favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film this weekend. It’s a haunting, metaphorical drama that speaks on many different levels, none more importantly than the idea of inherent evil and the loss of innocence.

Set in a small, Northern village in Germany at the start of World War I, Austrian director/writer Michael Haneke (“Caché”) builds the film’s tension on the mysterious accidents that begin to plague the villagers. When a doctor is injured after his horse trips on some wire and a boy is tied to a tree and tortured, the strange occurrences no longer seem like accidents as much as they do cruel pranks.

But who is to blame for what is happening in the once-peaceful village? Slowly, Haneke draws back the curtain as we watch the expressionless characters shot in cold black and white put a major dent in the history books. In doing so, Haneke once again explores the dark areas of human nature as he did with 2007’s sadistic “Funny Games.”

Most of “Ribbon” is narrated by a young school teacher (Christian Friedel), who is trying to find meaning behind his country’s fascist ideals and moral deficiency. His thoughts take him back to the small village where he remembers the children and the strict upbringing some of them became accustomed to.

Actor Burghart Klaussner is chilling as a pastor and the father of a handful of these children, who linger in the background of almost every scene like entities. The white ribbon he ties to his son’s and daughter’s arms is supposed to remind them of their purity. As you being to understand Haneke’s unpleasant viewpoint, “Ribbon” becomes all the more disturbing and intriguing.

While he never spells it out for the audience, Haneke’s message is a profound one. Even when he does allow us to see more of the heartlessness of these characters, “Ribbon” never becomes as unsettling as when these moments are happening behind closed doors.

Funny Games

March 7, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt
Directed by: Michael Haneke (“Cache”)
Written by: Michael Haneke (“Cache”)

There are so many reasons why someone would want to remake their own film shot-for-shot after the original premiered 11 years ago. For German director/writer Michael Haneke, one of those reasons could be that in 1997, “Funny Games” was seen by only a handful of art house aficionados looking for a horror picture they could see and still tell their elitist friends about.

There is no reason Haneke shouldn’t feel pleased with the warped story he conjured up back then. If this was the only way he thought he could earn a second chance to get it out to them masses and take advantage of the torture porn fare that is so popular today, by all means have at it.

Haneke’s film, however, is more multi-layered that the psychotic games Jigsaw plays with his victims in the “Saw” series and much more terrorizing from a humanistic perspective than any number of hillbilly mutant killers living in “The Hills Have Eyes.”

When you aim to terrify someone from a psychological point of view, you have to be spot on. With “Funny Games,” Haneke delivers an obvious statement about America’s love of violence all the while playing hypocrite to his own beliefs by adding to the genre in uninspiring fashion.

Still, it’s a chilling tale, which follows two affluent young men who take a family hostage in their vacation home and make them play sadistic games for their own amusement. Actors Michael Pitt (“The Village”) and Brady Corbet (“Mysterious Skin”) do make the perfect incarnates of evil as they mess with the minds of Ann (Watts), her husband George (Roth) and their son Georgie (Deavon Gearheart). Like Christian Bale in “American Psycho” or Matt Damon in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Peter (Pitt) and Paul (Corbet) are sharp and always one step ahead of those they make suffer.

Its pretentiousness, however, is too much to handle at times. Haneke is a talented filmmaker. If you’ve seen “Cache,” you will realize how well he can pace a story and twist a viewer’s imagination. But in “Funny Games,” it’s more of a long, well-planned out experimental project that is attention-grabbing but ultimately meaningless. If you want to see some recent mind-screwing at its most brutal see “Hard Candy” and skip out on these “Clockwork Orange” wannabes.