Unexpected tenderness

Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winner ‘The White Ribbon’ is a tale of cruelty set in a north German village in 1913. Despite its monochrome austerity, Catherine Wheatley sees hints of a new softness in the director’s work

“Have you any pride? You want to see how far you can go? My God, why don’t you just give up?” So barks one character to his lover in Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon as he tries, crushingly, to end a relationship by humiliating her into leaving him. It’s a question one might equally beg of audiences paying to see the latest film from the renowned and sometimes reviled Austrian director. Repeatedly lambasted in the press for a didactic and punitive approach to his audiences that can suggest a contempt for society and spectator alike, Haneke is hardly a crowd pleaser. Indeed, like the callous doctor who utters the above lines, he has repeatedly asked his audiences why they don’t just walk out. Yet as the evidence – the enduring popularity of 2005’s Hidden, the fast selling-out retrospectives of his early work at the Paris Cinémathèque and London’s Curzon cinemas this autumn, and of course the film-maker’s long-overdue Palme d’Or win at Cannes this year – suggests, audiences are far from giving up on Haneke. Little wonder UK distributors Artificial Eye are expecting great things from The White Ribbon. more

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