Wednesday night’s screening of The White Ribbon left the Cannes crowds shocked and stunned, and seems to have impressed every critic in attendance, with the film achieving 100% on the Tomatometer after nine reviews.
Directed by festival favourite Michael Haneke, the film follows the trials and tribulations of a Protestant village in northern Germany on the eve of World War I. Shot in beautiful black and white and performed by an incredible ensemble cast, the film has been roundly praised for is sensitive portrayal of some pretty shocking material.
Variety’s Todd McCarthy is certainly a fan, writing that the film has “an absolute confidence and mastery of its own cinematic language, and the performances Haneke elicits from his first-rate cast, particularly the children, are eerily perfect.”
The Telegraph’s Sukdev Sandu concurs, stating “this is – by Haneke’s normally icy standards – a surprisingly affecting forensic study of social breakdown.”
What plot there is in the film revolves around a series of mysterious accidents taking place in the village, and Time Out’s Dave Calhoun claims that while the perpetrator of the crimes remains a mystery, that doesn’t really matter. “Once the film comes to a close,” he writes, “You might be asking the same questions as early on: why are we watching these people? Why do they behave as they do? Who is behind a series of crimes they suffer? But, by then, you’ve been presented with a portrait of a place that is so rich, so detailed and so full of telling relationships and behaviour that you feel you have gained an understanding of the very essence of these people.”
And while Variety’s Todd McCarthy calls it “a difficult film to embrace,” he nevertheless states that the narrative “goes beyond its general analysis of humanity to implicitly suggest some tendencies in the German character and culture that could point to certain developments in the subsequent three decades.”
Where it stands in terms of winning the Palme d’Or remains to be seen however. The film faces stiff competition from early favourites The Prophet, Fish Tank, Bright Star and the like, although Heat’s Charles Gant believes it has a chance. “I think it’s a mug’s game trying to second-guess what the jury will decide,” he says “But Haneke has never won the award before, and it’s definitely a strong film.”