Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Winner of Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival has a character with Down syndrome

Reuters reports that "Austrian director Michael Haneke won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival on May 23 for 'The White Ribbon', a chilling exploration of the roots of Nazi terror.
Haneke's first Palme d'Or (Golden Palm), the top prize at the world's biggest film festival, was one of the favourites among the thousands of critics and journalists in the French Riviera resort for the 12-day movie marathon."

Here's The Guardian's description of the film:

With this new film, Michael Haneke returns to his classic themes of guilt, denial and violence as the mysterious symptom of mass dysfunction. The White Ribbon is a period film set in a secluded northern German village on the eve of the first world war, shot in a pellucid monochrome, impeccably acted, and directed with this film-maker's icily exact rigour and severity.

An isolated community is shaken by unpleasant, inexplicable events: a razor trip-wire fells the local doctor on his horse, and he is badly injured. The landowning baron's son is found, bound and whipped. A boy with Down's syndrome is horribly abused. The white ribbon of the title is a badge of mortification: the pastor's children must wear it as a reminder of their sinful state and need for purity. But of course it is effectively the symbol of the retaliatory violence to come.

Like Haneke's earlier film Hidden, this is to some degree about the return of the repressed. Unlike that movie, however, The White Ribbon is not about the repercussions of a single buried event, but a continuous diseased process, in which those without power - children and disenfranchised adults - are in a permanent state of futile rebellion against authority, expressed in spiteful acts of anonymous nastiness; these trigger spasms of fear in both the community and their masters, who respond by redoubling their resented discipline. And so the unhappy process goes on. The outbreak of war, with its promise of larger violence, is to provide a distraction without which the village's petty hell would simply have gone on for ever.

Some viewers may be intrigued, or exasperated, that no clear culprit is ever unmasked. And yet the perpetrators' identities are not so hard to guess, and this open-endedness has the unfinished quality of real life. The White Ribbon has an absolute confidence and mastery of its own cinematic language, and the performances Haneke elicits from his first-rate cast, particularly the children, are eerily perfect.