the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

Haneke

In film on March 2, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Stepping out of a screening of The White Ribbon last month, I realized that the sounds my shoes made in striking the ground were slightly uneven—the left sneaker lifted softer than the right. I also noticed my eyes were tired. The first observation can be credited to Michael Haneke, the director of Ribbon; the second to the fact that Haneke’s film, like most of his works, was not in English, and so I had read tiny subtitles for the last 2 hours.

In The White Ribbon, Haneke places a camera and a detached narrator in a pre-WWI German village and lets characters and themes weave in and out of the edges of the frame until the violence of the villagers becomes unavoidably foregrounded. By the time a single, irrevocable image appears on screen (a Haneke signature…more later), the viewer has been trained to sense the smallest shifts in the sound and shape of voices and actions in Haneke’s film. (or their own sounds—ie, my shoes)

Long takes and whispered lines are not simply background, something to contrast the “shock scene”; rather, Haneke uses these developing shots to make the viewer  acutely aware of their expectations—to make the viewer feel that the origin of violence and cruelty is a belief in the inevitability of evil.

(Towards the end of The White Ribbon, the narrator explains that he was not sure when the word “war” was first brought up after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, but once it was released into the ether, Germany’s fate was sealed.)

I rented Cache, an earlier Haneke film, the other night, and found myself in another world of trained hypersensitivity. The importance of the past was reversed though:

In The White Ribbon, the past is what’s lived and felt—and the future stretches spectre-like across the proceedings, as fake spider webs cloak bushes at halloween; Cache‘s characters are firmly and brazenly in the present, even as the past tries to draw out submerged feelings.

The final shots in these movies are similar in their construction and their focus—the credits roll with the faces of children before us. Haneke is too skilled a filmmaker to let us go thinking that we have him or his stories figured out, but he discloses, like one of his characters, a tiny secret that festers and grows: A child’s view of the world is often more perceptive than we are comfortable with.

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