This is the new film by Michael Haneke; enfant terrible of the art cinema world and not to everyone’s taste. He doesn’t exactly make action movies.
But the movie did win the Palme d’or at Cannes this year so certainly the critics liked it.
It’s long and it moves at a slow but steady pace. It’s black and white (often dimly lit) but beautifully realised. In fact at times the cinematography is so beautiful that it’s like a moving Ansell Adams. It is variously graded throughout with the merest hint of a cream or a brown creeping in from time to time that creates some variety. It’s mesmerising.
And it’s weird. Really weird.
Apparently, and this is not blindingly obvious it is an allegorical take on the birth of fascism.
It’s yet another movie where the heavy hand of religion gets the blame for most evil. The pastor of the remote German village that it is set in, in the lead up to the First World War, is a central character and is the sort we’ve seen many times before (The Magdalene Sisters being a good example). Outwardly pious; inwardly, and to his family, a callous and viscious bastard. Quick to blame, shame and moralise. His presence throughout is powerful and visceral.
The dawning of fascism is subtly portrayed because no politics enter the film overtly at any point. Class wars and sexual poilitics do though in what is clearly a male dominated culture and one where sexual transgression is rife (child abuse, domestic abuse, illicit masturbation and secret affairs are all featured).
But it’s the children (spookily played by one and all in a sort of village of the damned way) that steal the film. They appear to be forces of evil and if not (the plot is never explained and the strange occurrences left to hang – it is Haneke after all) they are certainly victims of it.
Haneke seems to be saying that the rise of fascism came out of this age of suppression and a sense of revenge – after all the destruction of the Jews is often taken as a form of revenge for their post WWI success.
Haneke makes films like only Haneke makes films. Some people find them slow and boring. I think he follows in the style of that French New Wave of the 60’s but with a better grip on audience manipulation. He makes thought provoking masterpieces and this is another one.