PALME D’OR – “Le Ruban Blanc”, the sound of violence –

The Cannes Film Festival will not take place. In any case, not in May. And not in the form we know. The editorial staff offers you a non-exhaustive selection of Palmes d’Or which have marked the history of the festival since its creation. Palme d’Or of 2009, The White Ribbon is the picture of a society before the First World War, closed in on itself. Between abuse, violence and obsession with innocence, the authority figures of a small German village persist in maintaining an ideal that has never existed.

There are a lot of reasons to blame Michael Haneke. His films do without music, with the exception of that which his characters listen to. They are cruel, pessimistic, frustrating and the filmmaker refuses to give an interpretation. But who knows how to reproduce violence on the screen with such accuracy? Few films capture the monstrosity in detail like Haneke’s do. The White Ribbon is one of those great films where evil is omnipresent without its name ever being said.

Colorless Society

Germany, 1913. A small Protestant village suffered in the space of a few weeks an unprecedented wave of violence. Destruction of crops, mutilation of children, murder of a peasant woman… Maintained in a quasi-feudal system, the small village gradually sinks into paranoia. In this micro-society of which the pastor, the doctor and the baron are the figures of authority, sadness becomes omnipresent. The society that Haneke portrays seems very dull, austere and black and white is not for nothing.

© ARD / Degeto / BR / X-Filme

When his son brings back an injured bird and promises to take care of it, the pastor warns the child: the bird is used to freedom, in a cage, it will be unhappy. For locals, going through town is an exception. Freedom is not even a subject. Reproduction therefore continues, for lack of counter-models. Fatalism can be read on all these faces that Haneke takes the time to frame in turn. Mass has been said.

Women and children first

Partitioned in traditional roles, women are silent. Witnesses and victims of the violence of mediocre husbands, yet guarantors of good morals. The obsession of men of power with the white ribbon is such that the opposite effect occurs. Innocence disintegrates in the heartbreaks of violence of the youngest. Authority figures try in vain to mark the border between the world of childhood and theirs. The pastor ties his son to his bed “so as not to [qu’il] succumbs to the temptations of his young flesh ”. Attached to innocence with the help of a white ribbon as if the evil were elsewhere, out of reach, the son sees the fire in the barn from his room. The two worlds are not impermeable.

The professor walks through a gray area. In contact with children from whom he struggles to obtain the secrets, he is rejected by most adults. At the height of his 31 years, he marvels at the timidity and the infantile frankness of Eva, a (very) young employee of the baroness. Another era, we will be told. It is no wonder that the character on the border of the two worlds is the narrator of this cruel tale.

© ARD / Degeto / BR / X-Filme

Violence everywhere, innocence nowhere.

The White Ribbon without music, with the exception of that played by the baroness, which no villager is good enough to accompany, and that which resonates in the church. If silence is omnipresent, it is because violence is listened to. The aged teacher of at least thirty years comments on the plot. Without hindsight, he details the ellipses of the plot. In Haneke’s film, sound interferes between the images. In the same way, violence is listened to much more than it is viewed. The blows are distributed off-screen. The abuse can be seen behind the doors.

In the shadow of the great absolutes, children discover a world built on lies, manipulation and violence. This is the master stroke of Michael Haneke. In the guise of a wise film which borrows a few codes from the documentary, the Austrian filmmaker delivers a powerful narrative on the insidious violence and the complexity of ideals in a world which is about to rock with a crash into modernity.

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PALME D’OR – “Le Ruban Blanc”, the sound of violence –

Hank Gilbert