Let’s keep this short and simple:
Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” is a pointless, bloodless cinematic construct that seems obsessed with man’s capacity for cruelty – like almost all of his films.
In his sumptuously shot (in black and white), glacially paced story, we observe the residents of a small village in pre-World War I Germany as they move through several seasons. He gives us no reason to care about them.
During this period, the local preacher abuses his children while maintaining a pious front. The local doctor abuses his female assistant, both sexually and verbally. And the local children perform various acts of violent cruelty – but they do it secretly enough that they aren’t caught. The local teacher suspects them, even confronts them, though none of them will admit to it.
Haneke’s tortured point seems to be that these children are the future fervent followers of the Third Reich, little monsters-in-waiting, eager for their opportunity to apply their conscience-less beings to the destruction of Jews, Europe and the world. And their parents are either blind to the malignancy in their children – or suffer from the same character flaw themselves.
But Haneke’s film is the cinematic equivalent of watching someone pull the wings off flies – like almost all of his films.
Is it thought-provoking? Well, yes – except it provokes no thoughts that most of us haven’t already had in this area. Instead, it is, in its own interminable and quiet way, an act of voyeurism into people’s most hateful impulses. He might as well make a film about defecation, under the theory that it, too, is a sorry fact of life.
Unless you’re a dog undergoing house-breaking, you don’t need to have your nose rubbed in shit to be reminded that it exists. But that seems to be Haneke’s raison d’etre.