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Wednesday 30 December 2009

Haneke's The White Ribbon: A Further Note


File:Michael Haneke.jpg

"I'm now convinced the poor guy is a bit of a sick mutt. With courage." -- Bob Arnold

It must be conceded that Haneke's films are not much fun. But maybe fun's overrated anyway. Life's not all fun; still it's very strange and complicated and compelling, bright and then dark, all on the surface and then suddenly, in unexpected telling moments, striking deep. Working in the large and intricate canvas of ambiguous relations that is The White Ribbon, Haneke attends upon those moments; he captures a good deal of that uncanny problematic depth and complexity; in a small community a whole society is implied; very few artists can really manage that kind of scope. This is a director who understands how much in the human world lies hidden, how many secrets there are, how these secrets can never be fully revealed, how nonetheless the effort to conceal them is always finally overcome by the impulse to reveal them, and how that moment of attempted revelation is the prey for which art works lurk in waiting.

Here is Jennifer Szalai, talking about the open-endedness of Haneke's films. She suggests it implies a kind of optimism.

"[Haneke] once told a reporter that he considered himself a 'realist. That doesn't mean I'm a pessimist. The pessimists are those who make purely escapist films, because they believe people are so stupid that it's useless to make a film about anything serious. But someone who points to wounds in society is also trying to change things, even just a bit.'

"The prospect of a change comes from introducing possibilities rather than covering up the open wound. A therapeutic mantra of closure has insinuated itself into our idea of almost everything, including art; we assume we should be able to walk away from one experience and simply move on to the next. Haneke's films, however, force us to slow down, not just to look but to see, and they reverberate in the mind long after one has left the theater. They are a protest against the kind of complacency that would allow us to behave like the family in The Seventh Continent, so caught up in their daily rituals that they don't really live." (Harper's Magazine, November 2007)

Michael Haneke: photo by Thomas Steiner, 2007


Bob Arnold / Longhouse said...

Hi Tom,

Yes, Haneke — and I, perhaps, am just as "sick", since I, too, believe in the light and the dark of things. I'm not foolish enough to believe I have any choice!

I have consumed (which is what I believe one has to do) all of Haneke's films a few times. The new film I await, with your words crawling in the brain pan. My wording of "sick mutt" is really pointing to the unfortunate remake of Funny Games, which is ultimate the first time through in the original film. A devastating film. The remake seemed commercial, if not unnecessary.

I'm in cahoots with everything you and Jennifer Szalai share. Haneke may be Lao Tzu (our greatest light & dark magician) if he can hurdle his own demons and actually show angels at work. We get glimpses! But then we know Dante relished purgatory and had a tough trail chopping through and into the arms of paradise.

TC said...


Thanks, and of course, we all of us are/aren't sick--all that is except for this nice mutt up real close.