Archive for July, 2010

Homeless Nook

Posted in Photography on July 31, 2010 by baker

Gowanus, Brooklyn.  July 31, 2010.

Film: Ken Russell: The Devils (1971)

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , on July 31, 2010 by baker

A few weeks ago I saw Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone and gave serious thought to writing it up, but I couldn’t find something to really grapple with in it.  It’s a perfectly respectable movie, clearly written and directed, if unevenly acted and photographed.  Around the same time I saw Nicholas Stoller’s Get Him to the Greek – in exactly the right frame of mind: a bit drunk, surrounded by friends – and felt pretty much the same.  I wasn’t really bored, but neither of these provided a lot of fodder for thought.  They’re both well-intended, breaking no new ground and offering little by way of a unique perspective on the universe.  It’s the case with most films.  Last night I saw a 35mm print of Ken Russell’s The Devils at the Walter Reade, and felt what I felt watching There Will Be Blood or Sátántangó: that I was in the presence of something really, really wonderful, overflowing with ambition, made with a fierce grasp of technique, designed and performed as if it were the first and last film on earth.  To see a film so ferociously executed, so bloated with its maker’s personality as to be seeping at its seams – where most filmmakers retreat, in fear of the sin of self-awareness – well, I mean…this is why I keep watching movies.  I want to see films made by people so sure of their purpose as storytellers and craftsmen that they make new rules for themselves, and for us as we watch.  I want to feel the precipitous vertigo – freed from genre conventions, with anchors aweigh and sails trimmed on a course straight out to sea – of calamitous failure averted.  And not by accident, but because the captain knows his ship and the channel as though they’re both equally a part of him.

Prior to this screening, the film has only been available on a muddy bootleg DVD that includes several scenes censored from the American release.  I’ve watched the film many times, and while it’s always been clear from the bootleg that The Devils is some kind of masterwork, the archival print borrowed from Harvard for the screening reveals its depth of detail and shocking graphic beauty.  Aside from its content, discussion of The Devils tends to go first to Derek Jarman’s set design – and it is awesome.  He’s built an entire walled city of white tiles and black columns; structures, especially interiors, are formally nebulous, but imbue the place with a sort of sterile austerity.  The nunnery always reminds me of a bathhouse – I feel submerged in the blues and whites, among the flowing robes; or perhaps a sewer, trapped behind the bars that open into the grimy street. But for me the film’s crowning achievement lies somewhere amid Russell’s obsessive chaos and David Watkin’s photography of it.  The Devils contains cinematography as texturally cohesive and head-spinningly expressive as anything Bertolucci or Ophuls ever did, not just on the level of exposure and imagery and so forth, but also in its intimation of something like inertia or velocity, of self-perpetuating motion within the film.  There’s a subcategory of kinetics called kinematics, having to do with the motion of objects without consideration of the causes leading to the motion, which seems as close to the sense of intuitive cinematic movement as anything I’ve come across.  A camera need not follow action to justify movement; it has the capacity to whisper in your ear with a swoop or a nod of its own volition, a ruleless extension of the filmmaker’s intuitions.  Like the best of them, Russell has a way of wielding Watkin’s camera as if it were slung straight out from his subconscious, a jib swinging with private precision to snag up visual grace notes we’ll have to feel our way through.  Some find this sort of thing indulgent.  I find it to be the surest sign of a human being at work behind the clothesline for thought and feeling that is, and will always be, a cinematic story.

All the better for The Devils, which is preposterous as a narrative film and full of the sort of historical and philosophical banter that would otherwise sink it in abject silliness.  Oliver Reed is as hammy an actor as Joaquin Phoenix, quickly outgrowing the drama of his characters with flourishes more befitting comedy, but Russell puts him in a film broad enough to contain him, and offsets him with spookily direct and giddy performances by Vanessa Redgrave and Michael Gothard.  The whole thing reeks of Grand Guignol excess, as startling in its carefully sustained chaos as in its carefree combination of naturalism and flamboyance – anything can happen in The Devils, from stuffed crocodiles and 1960s spectacles in a 17th-century French city to nuns masturbating on a crucifix or a piece of charred bone (both deleted from the print shown at Lincoln Center).  I suspect Russell has serious intentions buried deep, deep down inside the making of this film, but he’s happy to swing the rope as far around his head as he can, and let fly with abandon.  The end result is an absolutely mesmerizing cacophony of sound and motion in service of a Salem-like witch hunt.  If The Devils begins in formal precision and a disconcerting moral ambiguity, by its end it has essentially reversed those qualities, rooting its morality firmly within Reed’s priest while the physical world around him dissolves into formal anarchy.  To see and feel this transition over the course of the film is to experience a controlled rattling of the senses and jangling of the nerves for which, in my opinion, Russell and his collaborators deserve enormous credit.  Films like this deserve attention, in their ostentatious obstinance, just for having come to be.

Filmmakers like Russell can be hard to assess.  One the one hand, he worked with apparent freedom all through the ’70s on films with major distribution – by the time he made The Devils (released in 1971) he’d already scored an Oscar nomination for directing Women in Love in 1969.  From the pathetically few films of his I’ve been able to see (Song of Summer: Frederick Delius (1968), a 73-minute episode of the “Omnibus” series; Mahler (1974), Tommy (1975), Altered States (1980), and Whore (1991)), what’s clear is that he doesn’t quite seem to have a fixed style (not a terrible thing for a director who wants to keep working), and the craftsmanship he does bring each time is easily swayed by the peculiarities of each film.  So on the other hand, Altered States is a gloriously beautiful thing to watch, even as you’re shaking your head in dismay at how sentimentally hollow it becomes in its second half.  Song of Summer and Mahler display much of the formality he mastered in The Devils, but Mahler in particular is painful to watch, so stilted in its performances and precious in its self-regard.  He’s at his best when he’s building a rhythm – there’s certainly nothing unimaginative or visually dull about the Pinball Wizard in Tommy, or any sequence you can think of in The Devils – but then there’s always the nagging question of taste: sometimes he just doesn’t display a whole lot (he does his films no favors by casting blank and uncharismatic rock stars like Roger Daltrey…the point of Tommy is mysterious).  A real emptiness tends to creep up around the edges of his energetic showmanship, suggesting it’s all at the service of remarkably little.  The Devils is his loopy exception.  It’s not much of an intellectual exercise, but the frenzy common to his other work feels an intrinsic part of the story here rather than the arbitrary frosting it sometimes is.

The great thing about seeing it, then, at Walter Reade – aside from a reliably good projection – is that you’re surrounded by an appreciative audience, one that will pay attention, and know better for the most part than to yak during the movie.  It’s also a venue that respects the filmmaker; Ken Russell and Vanessa Redgrave were in attendance for a Q&A and general worship.  This was the second time I’ve been in a screening of a Russell film with him there – the first was at Telluride in 2001, which screened Song of Summer along with fragments of his other films – including The Devils, where I made a mental note to catch the whole film one day.  I didn’t recognize him at the time, so when he was introduced a few seats away from me, I hardly expected the rotund old man with the feathery voice.  He’s noticeably older now, and frailer, and has endearingly run out of things to say about his own films.  Which leads me to the downside of a Lincoln Center screening.  The audiences tend to think of themselves as cinephiles, and in the presence of an idol want to impress him with lofty praise and worldly insight into his work.  The sort of comments that first arose after the screening (following Russell’s agonizingly slow shuffle to the stage) had to do with questions of evil and finding hope in the world – something I don’t feel The Devils, tonally, endorses at all.  Nor do I think Russell really thinks so either.  He graciously replied vaguely to this line of thought, then left it to Redgrave to pontificate.

At risk of sounding cagey or curmudgeonly, the tone of this Q&A was all wrong.  I felt like I’d just watched a completely different film than these folks.  Russell had made such a fiercely idiosyncratic picture, one that wasn’t quite reducible to such moralistic inanity.  I suppose there will always be this debate about whether a film ought to be about its story above all, or whether it ought first and foremost to be about its maker’s personal expression, but I began to feel like this audience wanted an experience closer to Winter’s Bone or even Get Him to the Greek: one where we’re all meant to feel included in the experience, as a collective approaching from the same frame of mind, with the same expectations.  One in which a feeling of bewilderment demands mollification.  A Q&A immediately after a film is a tough prospect, because you haven’t had time to process your own response to what you’ve just seen.  It seems to me they should be about hearing a filmmaker’s thoughts, and then asking him how it was to direct a notoriously temperamental guy like Oliver Reed (the one good question, and a fantastic answer from Russell: “Moody 1, Moody 2, or Moody 3.  We usually did Moody 2”).  I badly wish we could all have sat quietly, audience and filmmaker, and regarded each other in silence for a few minutes with our own thoughts.  In my imagination, Russell would have dug that.

Film: Giorgos Lanthimos: Dogtooth (2009)

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , on July 29, 2010 by baker

I might be wrong, but with the exception of a brazen handheld shot toward the end, I only recall one camera move in all of Dogtooth – somewhere in the last third, a dolly across the surface of a pool from one character to two others, discussing the various kinds of sharks one could expect to encounter [out in the world].  And it’d be awfully hard, if that were the case, not to reference Tokyo Story, Ozu’s meticulously crafted meditation on the generational rifts between elderly parents and their grown children.  Assuming I’ve made a mistake and there are others, Giorgos Lanthimos still seems to be riffing on a familiar formal style, one in which the camera is not merely a passive observer, but is not even afforded the right to look where it (we) wants.  Lanthimos’ frames are all somehow off, looking beyond or underneath or askew at the action proper.  Eventually even the formal frames feel wrong – as the one in which the two sisters dance like marionettes to their brother’s guitar – because they’re breaking the film’s formal rigor.  Normal shots start to feel very weird and discomforting in this quiet, creepy little film about a profoundly dysfunctional Greek family cocooned since the children were born, presumably, in a gated house that doesn’t seem to have changed since the ’70s.

Lanthimos provides no further background except to imply that the father, who works in a curiously dental-shaped warehouse, makes excuses to his coworkers for his family’s social absence.  There is also an episode late in the film involving Rocky on videotape that hints at a more distinct social criticism, although it seems a facile explanation for just how subtly totalitarian the parents have chosen to raise their three children, now in their teens or twenties.  They know nothing of the world beyond the fence – planes passing overhead are regarded as toys that may fall into the backyard, cats are the most vicious creatures on earth, and a Frank Sinatra record is the voice of their grandfather, singing, as the father translates, a paean to strong family unity (“Fly Me to the Moon”).  There is no connection between sex and violence, although sex, as a family institution, is a privilege of the men, with whichever woman he chooses, and violence – against the flesh, against the mind – is essentially necessary and tolerated.

The only way out of this Orwellian, anti-Ozu, THX-1138 dreamscape of a nightmare is in the teeth: a child can leave the nest when his or her dog’s teeth fall out.  Those canines, the ones that help you rip meat and defend yourself – as soon as you lose them, you can leave the protection of the home.  There might be a deeper complexity lurking in Lanthimos’ film, but primarily he plays it all for comedy: dark, quiet, funky comedy, the kind that crawls up on you while you’re trying to figure out how the film works.  He neither explains anything nor lets the characters – particularly the children – behave like self-conscious individuals, at least not right away.  How they got to be near-adults without rejecting this sort of control by default, as maturing teenagers, is not important.  And to an extent, I applaud that.  Lanthimos posits a situation and runs with it.  But I also think he’s got a frailer touch, at least as a storyteller, than this film deserves; Roy Andersson built You, the Living (2007) of essentially the same self-contained lunacy, but let it focus in purpose as he went along into a beautifully funny discussion of loneliness – the funnier it got, the greater sadness it registered.

Not that predictability is in any particular way a measure of film’s worth, but I had the closing scenes of Dogtooth pretty well presumed after a while, and I’m not sure Lanthimos wanted that, or cared very much.  At a certain point movies like these start running on autopilot as narrative devices, committed to wrapping out a story for us without breaking its own rules.  Give Lanthimos credit for leaving us on a shot that answers nothing but implies several possible outcomes, each of which work for the film – although none lend it greater depth as a focused work of intellect or art.  Actually, the film’s best scene comes a bit earlier, in an exchange between the parents spoken with the children just outside the room, with exaggerated mouthing but without voices, so as not to be heard.  For a moment there is a sense that one of the parents recognizes this hellish environment for what it is, but the other kills any hope for escape with a decision of monstrous dimensions.

The short scene is very dark, and very funny, and lends a comic bent to what comes next, but stuff like this needs either greater consequences or none at all to fully flower, and I think Lanthimos takes the middle road.  Which is sort of where his film has been going all along.  If he’s really riffing off Tokyo Story, he’s kind of done everything right: the formal framing, the vignettish narration, the completely consistent performances, the reversed family dynamics.  Lanthimos, I believe, knows what movie he’s trying to make.  The French have done well to award it at Cannes with the prize for Un certain regard – with what regard, I’m not certain, but un for sure.

Plastic Day 4

Posted in Film Reviews on July 28, 2010 by baker

July 26, 2010.  Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Day 4: Upstairs.

Posted in Films on July 28, 2010 by baker

Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  July 26, 2010.

Film: Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger: Restrepo (2010)

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , on July 6, 2010 by baker

If we ever expect to “win” the “war in Afghanistan”, men like CPT Dan Kearney need to be swiftly relieved of duty.  As shown in Restrepo, leading meetings with local village elders in the Korengal Valley, Kearney displays nothing but the broadly stereotypical American military tone of command, condescending to a roomful of rural Afghans twice his age with comments like “Remember when I told you guys…?” as though they’re children in need of firmness.  Afghans are in need of firmness – they just don’t need it from an occupying army who show little (or, in Kearney’s case, no) respect for their customs.  If you emasculate these guys, deserved or otherwise, you will make enemies of them.  It’s stunning to me that the United States military sends men like him to regions like that, and fails to remind him what backwoods rednecks surely all know: you cain’t come in here and tell me what to do in mah own bayckyard.  No, instead they indoctrinate him with the greatest willpower in the western hemisphere: good old American self-righteousness.

That the filmmakers do not interfere, and never in the film question Kearney’s tactics – even while plainly living with the platoon in the same outpost, named for a medic killed in Korengal in the summer of 2007 – raises a quite different debate: are films like this really helping anything?  It should be said at once that Restrepo is an engrossing film, so close to the action that there’s no attempt to clean the often dirty lens; when the sound cuts out, a scene continues in silence with the occasional RF hit, as though we’re watching the raw footage along with the filmmakers, stunned to be in one piece and eager to see what they got.  In the heat of battle, the camera huddles under trees watching soldiers rush past, looking this way and that before hauling ass directly behind them, low in the weeds.  Directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger – both veteran war correspondents – place themselves firmly inside the platoon, just as surely forming a bond with its 20-somethings warriors as refusing to draw conclusions about what they see.

For a documentary, it’s an admirable strategy, but… When I was there in the spring of 2009 – with Iranian photographer Reza Deghati, who accompanied Junger in 2000 in their National Geographic project with the late Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud – extraordinary attention went into social graces.  There’s a tenderness to it, a calm series of exchanges showing respect and friendship.  Basic courtesy aside, it’s how you got around – and it’s how you showed deference to the Afghani tradition of greeting guests without reservation.  And even then, we sometimes ran into trouble.  We once spent a night in the home of Massoud’s father-in-law.  Our fixers had failed to call ahead, and we showed up unannounced, an embarrassment to Reza and a bad way to begin our time in the Panjshir Valley.  But Reza was a friend; we were shown to the guest room – a big space, empty except for the ubiquitous large, flat cushions found in every such room – and given a dinner of stale bread and fried eggs.  All forgiven; we spent the evening in the presence of a man of humbling grace, wit, and temperance, listening to stories between the two men (with only the occasional translation).  The next morning, over a breakfast of watermelon, an Afghani-American woman showed up, leading a pair of Americans learning the local traditions for the training of contractors.  She marched into the room without removing her boots – the most basic of hospitalities – bade speedy introductions and hurried out again, leaving her bewildered-looking American clients sitting awkwardly in the corner of the room.  We left soon thereafter.

It left a bad taste, and things were awkward – but at least we weren’t carrying machine guns and dropping bombs that killed local children.  Junger, at least, must understand how this works, as he must know that the Afghans’ traditions, like our own, mask deep distrust of outsiders and a degree of fluid loyalties.  My guess is that behind his camera sat a set of gritted teeth.  No, he cannot interfere.  It would be impractical in the moment, disrespectful of his military hosts, and a useless subversion of its authority if Junger’s objective is to make a dispassionate film.  Yet he was there, and we see nothing in Restrepo of an attempt to correct the cringe-inducing boorish behavior directly contributing, I am quite certain, to our inability to weed out our mortal enemies, in a nation built of rock and regional alliances predicated less on ideology than on temporal power shifts.  I find this hard to reconcile.

Which is where Restrepo operates, on a broader level: none of this really makes sense.  When three tribal elders show up at Outpost Restrepo demanding payment for a cow killed by the soldiers when it strayed – according to the soldiers – into their wire, it’s clear that the dead livestock carries economic and opportunistic significance for the locals, who inform the military that killing the animal was illegal and claim they’re owed $500.  The CO offers them the cow’s weight in rice, beans, and sugar instead; Junger and Hetherington show the elders leaving, the matter unresolved.  In separate sequences, American soldiers are shown reveling in violent video games, then in their vertiginous high following a firefight that leaves them giggling like drunk teenagers, then in the confirmed obliteration of a combatant with a high-caliber weapon that tears the man apart.  And then, in a sequence that blows past sobering into some kind of delirium, an American is killed during an ambush, and things become dead-quiet serious for all but one of them, who dissolves in waves of helpless weeping.  The ambush hasn’t even ended.  The soldiers themselves, in interviews shot in Italy after their deployment in Korengal, have little to say about what they accomplished there; mostly, they’re happy to be gone and confused about how to handle what they saw and felt.  There’s mention of the “extra thousand dollars” they would have stood to make if their deployment had lasted until September instead of August 2008; our guards and fixers in Afghanistan greeted their brothers and friends in Panjshir and told stories about hiding in caves for weeks at a time, shooting down Russian helicopters whose remains still litter the valley floor like outsized fossilized insects.  Tank treads have become speed bumps in the road; artillery shells line the tops of walls in which bricks have been replaced with used ammunition canisters.

Hetherington and Junger know there’s so little to conclude in Restrepo beyond futility.  Mercifully, they make no effort to heroize or eulogize – they just watch.  And they listen: the film contains a marvelous soundtrack, constructed mostly of idle bullshitting among the troops, the clicks and thunks of their weaponry, the crunch of their boots in gravel (and little ethnic music to appeal to a foreigner’s sense of exoticism).  Faceless voices over the radio direct aerial attacks on tree-covered spurs across the valley; explosions appear well before the distant boom that’s killed the screams of the men hiding there – or not.  All we know of the local perspective is what comes in pieces via the shuras with the elders, so the only suggestion of meaning to the whole goddamned endeavor is what the filmmakers show the Americans creating.  They name their outpost after one of their own KIAs.  Their Dan Kearneys evoke duty, and give the men momentary permission to “go ahead and mourn” so they can get back to work (his response to a meeting with villagers in which he’s shown the bodies of five local farmers killed by American bombings: “Dammit, dammit, dammit!”).  None of the soldiers, Kearney included, come across as bad men; they’re good old boys and die-hard patriots, doing their part to make God and mama proud.  Belief in their mission – to provide security for relief flowing into the valley – seems cursory.  In the American military – in any non-conscript army – you do as you’re told first, and think about it when you’re home.

So in an odd way – and this is the sort of documentary I would like to have made myself, so clear in its design and so lacking in sentimentality – I’m not sure what the purpose of Restrepo really is.  Those who feel we need to be in Afghanistan will nod and think how brave these boys are, sacrificing their freedom to preserve it for others.  Those who feel we don’t will shake their heads in disdain, wondering how on earth we got to be sending our boys to spurs of land in remote Afghan valleys to achieve almost nothing.  Anyone whose mind hasn’t leaned one way or another on the Afghanistan war – and I believe there are plenty in this land of ours, the ones who don’t feel the cost and don’t really care about the outcome – may find this a strange film, so full of sound and fury, etc.  If you can take a war film to mean whatever you already believe, does it help or hinder a filmmaker’s cause?  And if his cause is pure apolitical objectivity – however beautifully achieved – what the hell is his point?  The situation is so fragile these days that its commanding officer – who by all accounts maintained the best relationships with the local leadership, including Karzai, of anyone in the U.S. military – can be replaced for speaking his mind in Rolling Stone, hardly a bastion of potent political exchange.  I deeply admire this film as a film, but we need bolder debates at this point.

July 4.

Posted in Photography on July 5, 2010 by baker

Brooklyn Promenade.

Film: Michael Haneke: The White Ribbon (2009)

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , on July 2, 2010 by baker

In lieu of explicit storytelling, Michael Haneke blows smoke in front of your eyes, and then sculpts the air in such a way as to cut shapes out of the smoke.  His images are not in and of themselves the point.  They carry the ability to wield tremendous visceral weight, but they do it after the fact, in relation to each other, upon reflection.  I don’t know how he does this.  It’s the absolute essence of using the medium, as opposed to fashioning a story with its lumbering, tangible parts, and what you see is only a tiny fraction of what you eventually get.  Very often I feel lost in a Haneke film right up until the end, when the smoke takes shape and his intentions become boldly, shockingly visible.  If there was ever a filmmaker so deserving of a substance-versus-style analysis, it is Haneke – more than David Lynch, more than Wes Anderson, more than Almodóvar; Haneke is on their par as a consummate craftsman, but there is nothing showy about his filmmaking.  His is rigorously, illusorily simple, and requires that you look all the way through it.

It’s a style that will frustrate literal-minded viewers, in particular because it’s so concrete in form, seeming to indicate that he will eventually show you what he’s talking about.  His frames are studies in clean formal precision, his subjects almost always in the center, the camera never allowed a mind of its own.  His shots appear to make so much classical sense that it becomes disconcerting when – as is so frequently the case in The White Ribbon – scenes cut without an obvious conclusion.  In one extended shot, Haneke watches a puritanical pastor’s wife prepare the titular items to tie to their two eldest children’s arms, and then hustle them into the pastor’s study for a cane beating – and then, in the same shot, one of the children leaving the room and entering another to fetch the cane.  Such extended observance implies a bigger conclusion to the sequence, but Haneke cuts out quickly as the beatings begin offscreen.  There is a ritual at work here, both onscreen and through Haneke’s camera: an inevitability of behavior leading to a cold certainty about the outcome.

A calculated, cerebral directness has always played a heavy role in Haneke’s work – from the Grand Guignol horror shows that are Funny Games (1997, and its pointless, shot-for-shot 2007 remake) and Caché (2005) to the explosive psychological maneuverings of Benny’s Video (1992) and The Piano Teacher (2001) – but he has never carried out the natural logic of his own oblique style to the extent that he does in The White Ribbon.  As always, his storytelling is circuitous almost to a fault: after the opening shot, in which a tripwire sends a galloping horse and its rider crashing to the ground with sickening speed, he engages with an evasive, elliptical structure, lopping off the heads and tails of scenes and circumventing narrative logic with apparent oblivion.  For a while, he seems to be making a bad film, deliberately avoiding the slightest suggestion of the most basic dramatic resolution in order to irritate or inflame.  Worse, the damage begins to mount, in beaten children and death by murder or suicide (it’s never clear which), but it all happens between scenes, to be discovered or discussed later.

I have to admit that, although conscious that I was in the presence of some kind of artwork, I didn’t find my footing in The White Ribbon until I’d seen it three times.  Haneke’s formalism has a way of throwing you off – nobody makes films quite so intellectually stringent, and yet so loaded with mortal tension – but there is always a character-based behavioral logic adhered to with a conviction most filmmakers barely consider valuable; life is too full of whim.  Part of his logic this time around is to include the scenes his colder films have always left out: the warm and comic human moments between innocents, narrative threads that contradict Haneke’s standard-issue trajectory.  I expected there to be a darkness buried within, and there is, but not as a result of these scenes so much as in opposition to them – humanity can still be quite lovely.  Somewhere during my third viewing the whole thing came swooping together for me in a sudden rush of recognition, and I began to love this film all over again, and more deeply.

With unnerving depth and focus, The White Ribbon is about children’s absorption of their parents’ ideals, in one of the worst cases known yet to man.  Narrated by the voice of an elderly man who appears as a 31-year-old schoolteacher in the film’s pre-World War I Northern German village, the story watches the town’s leadership structure – its doctor, its priest, its baron and his steward – lash out in a series of self-succoring punishments in response to a slew of perverse crime.  There are injuries and deaths; the children all seem involved, but they could just be curious observers.  Deep uncertainty settles over the village, but quietly.  One doesn’t disrupt the natural order of this community by pointing out its rampaging disharmony.  One barely acknowledges disharmony at all, not when a vicious slap, a casual beat-down, or a cursory embarrassment will do.  The film comes in waves of social degeneration, to the point where crime and punishment become indistinguishable, the decent locked out of rational discussion with the powerful by self-erected walls of self-protective self-flagellation.

With Cache and this film, Haneke has probably become the world’s greatest horror filmmaker of existential dimensions.  Bad shit happens to complicated people, with no prayer for resolution or catharsis.  David Edelstein complained in New York Magazine that, on that front, Haneke “doesn’t deign to deliver the genre goods”, leaving audiences behind in their expectations and “yet still giv[ing] the bourgeois audience the finger”, which sounds more like the whining of a jilted child than a mature film critic.  Frustratingly, this stingy need of people to cling to generic satisfaction is far more disturbing than anything Michael Haneke put on film, as it speaks of a fierce disjoint in these folks’ minds between film and any unique perspective on life – nothing shown on the screen need reflect the mysteries and vagaries of real experience if it hampers that Aristotelian dramatic arc.  Real horror in film comes in the shock of sudden recognition that the world is not what we make of it, that it contains almost unfathomable darkness, and that the evil festering therein will in all likelihood carry itself through to the very, very end.

We need not see any of this evil – and Haneke shows virtually none – as long as there can be no doubt of any kind that it exists and will self-perpetuate.  A measure of Haneke’s thorough precision, the last shot of The White Ribbon begins with resplendent banality and gradually takes on, in details that upend what we believe is going on, absolutely monstrous implications – not only for the immediate future, but for the next generation.  Haneke has always included at least one moment in his films of pure white shock – a shriek of immutable, head-spinning violence.  He saves that moment in The White Ribbon until after the last shot has faded, ever so slowly, to black.  There is no question where this is going, and it is horrifying.