Michael Haneke made headlines this week when he won his second Palme d’Or at Cannes for Amour, his dramatic depiction of an elderly couple on the brink of mortality.
After many felt Haneke was wrongly overlooked at Cannes in 2005 for French-language film Caché (Hidden), three years ago he finally triumphed, taking his first Palme d’Or with German-language film Das weiße Band (The White Ribbon).
Set in a small authoritarian German village in 1913, Das weiße Band unravels a devastating sequence of anonymously-caused incidents: a trip-wire throws a man off his horse, an abducted son is found beaten in the woods, a worker is killed, a fire is started, a Down’s syndrome boy near blinded…
True to Haneke’s style, the blame is cast on everyone – but the culprit is not important. It is the tectonic cracks breaking through the formerly monolithic society which Haneke, in his disquieting and freeze-inducing manner, is pointing towards. Even the children, whom we automatically assume to be innocent, become suspects. Similarly with Caché, the interaction between Pierrot and Majid’s son in the final, crowded shots push the audience to irresolvably suspect that Georges and Anne’s own school-age son may be terrorizing their formerly secure home with the anonymous videotapes.
The pastor in Das weiße Band perceives his children as miscreant, forcing them to wear a white ribbon around their arm to symbolise purity and innocence, a humiliating reminder to prevent wrongdoing. As critic Peter Bradshaw notes: “The white ribbon could be the ancestor of the Jewish yellow star, or the Nazi armband. Or both. Or neither.” What does Haneke want it to symbolise? Or more to the point, he just wants us to think about what it might symbolise, what the repercussions of the microcosmic symbol represent in the wider, macrocosmic world.
Constructing scenes to the tune of the pan-Asian style – notably Hou Hsiao-hsien’s – Haneke moves his characters off-screen, leaving the audience to look at static shots of doors ajar and unoccupied hallways and staircases. As such, sound becomes the dominant medium and the audience is left to their own imagination to visualise what actions the sounds of heavy machinery, screams and crying accompany.
Haneke’s obsequious cinema enslaves his characters and his audience. Unwilling to offer resolve it captivates its audience far beyond the running time of the film.
The White Ribbon, dir. Michael Haneke (2009, Austria/Germany etc.)
Winner 2009 Palme d’Or.
The English trailer for Haneke’s new Palme d’Or winning film, Amour, can be watched here: http://www.u-dox.com/2012/05/winner-of-cannes-palme-dor-amour-5427/