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Archive for November 2009


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White Ribbon SaragossaParnassusKatalinZombielandInvention of LyingFunny People




The White Ribbon (w/d. Michael Haneke, 2009)

Technically faultless. Often arrestingly beautiful. Superlative performances.

Sound design, structure and mise en scene recall Hidden, The Piano Teacher and Benny’s Video, so The White Ribbon is arguably the apotheosis of an auteur mastering his language. The disturbance the film arouses is redolent of that turbulence coursing beneath Resnais’s Night and Fog, but without its explicit surface.

Haneke plays a few games in imitation of Ingmar Bergman – mirroring both images, plotted power dynamics, stylistic and dramatic aspects of dialogue. The Lutheran pastor is an expansion on that sinister figure of Fanny and Alexander. The doctor is an explicit rendition of the doctor in Cries and Whispers, or so many other Bergman men who have skeletons in their cupboards and violently abusive exchanges with the women they crush. Wintry black and white crime scenes recall the suicide of Winter Light.

Haneke clearly intends, and was quite right to mention so in recent interviews, his films to lurk in your thoughts once you’ve left the cinema. Nobody sits to discuss the film after, and it worries you in the core. Plotting, despite the ubiquitous inconclusiveness, is essential to his method and ends. The stories remain open both to leave one questioning events, and thereby to return one to the world presented. We aren’t to wonder ‘who done it’. That is irrelevant, and a MacGuffin to draw us into pondering this world’s “malice”, “envy”, “brutality”, “apathy” and “perverse revenge”.

One can hardly help but place the little boy in the white band, his lips pursed as though a lie is trying to force its way out, in his presumed future as camp commandant; his omnipresent sister as a prototype Eva Braun; the flayed whistle-thief as jackbooted storm-trooper. This is context specific, but the film’s world isn’t, and Haneke wants it to be read easily into any scenario where an authoritarian and absolutist value system is forced down throats until it is internalized and returned with vengeful fury to those who hypocritically and inconsistently inseminated it. Where Hidden made the vague gnawing of collective cultural responsibility for distant suffering highly acute, personal and present inside our lives (rather like a terrorist attack), The White Ribbon plays a similar tune to those vices quoted above. Here is where its lingering, troublesome affect has bite, and why I draw the Night and Fog analogy. Each of us is still culpable, in the same dimensions as those condemned, for contemporary manifestations of those same horrors.

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Bright Star ****

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Bright StarBright Star is Jane Campion and Andrew Motion’s story of Fanny Brawne and her love for Keats. Like his poetry, it prizes the senses – experience before concept: in colour – rich coordinations of costume and foliage in purples, pinks, blues and earthier tones; in texture – softness of velvet or cotton on treetop brush and hardwood skirting; in sound – vocal and natural harmonies. Love is regarded in its tactile qualities – what more can art aspire to articulate? Each movement – first encounter, discovery, pursuit, withdrawal, physical contact, separation, correspondence, loss, rediscovery, isolation, consummation, twilight, conclusion – is treated briskly with plot, yet spun into luxurious tapestry of emotion and affect.

Her advances are as ambivalent, coy or beguiling, as the jokes of her nemesis, Charles Brown. They are measured in expressions and silence. Keats’ defeated desire hides beneath furrowed brow and protean enthusiasm. Campion summons susurrant notes at each ecstatic touch, when hands first meet, when lips embrace and when hands burrow through hair. Keats worries he may catch alight. Abbie Cornish grasps and claws at the void as Brawne receives nothing from her distant love. Murmurs speak to her joy at a beautiful letter, as do kisses for Toots. The world changes colour and season with her mood, which in turn stems from these gestures. She kneels, her hands roam across the fabrics of his robes as he silently pleads forgiveness. As he summons the verse of bright star, his head rests on her breast, rising and falling, her kiss on the crown of his head. Trapped beyond reach, his sickbed mere inches through the wall, she rests a cheek against cold boards.

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Written by James P. Campbell

06/11/2009 at 20:39