Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Video review: "The White Ribbon"

"The White Ribbon" makes for an interesting exercise in discriminating between American and European films. This highly stylized German drama was a top prize winner at Cannes, and an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film. It received good write-ups from most American critics, but wasn't much of a hit here, even by art house standards.

I consider myself pretty egalitarian in my cinematic tastes, but I admit I found this movie dense and off-putting. It seems to revel in its own mysteriousness, in confounding and misdirecting its audience, rather than taking them someplace.

Set in a tiny pastoral German town before World War I, "Ribbon" opens with the local doctor being seriously injured in a horse riding accident when someone strings a wire across his garden. As the folk grow more angry and fearful, more attacks occur with increasing violence.

The baron's son is kidnapped and whipped, and for awhile the unrest appears to be rooted in resentment between the classes. But answers never come with any sort of clarity.

Visually it's a dazzling film, shot in austere black-and-white by writer/director Michael Haneke. But if American films are often formulaic and predictable, "The White Ribbon" is just too ... foreign.

Extras are a fairly generous mix, though the emphasis on on-set footage grows a bit tedious.

There's a 38-minute making-of documentary, which is dominated by Haneke. He reveals that he first began thinking about the film 20 years ago, and at one point considered making it as a three-part television movie.

More than 7,000 children were considered for roles -- a casting process that took six months. In one interesting aside, Haneke reveals that they bused in Romanians to play the village extras, since German actors were too modern-looking for his taste.

Another tidbit: The manor house featured in the film was the only one in Germany that wasn't in ruins or fully restored.

There's also a 50-minute retrospective on Haneke's career, an 18-minute featurette on the film's debut at Cannes, and a solo interview with Haneke that runs 14 minutes.

Movie: 2.5 stars out of four
Extras: 3 stars out of four

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