A German village just before World War I. Strange things start to happen, attacks that seem like punishments, and everything seems to point into the direction of the abused and supressed children of the village. The story is told from the point of view of the village teacher who tries to get to the heart of things.
I have to admit that when I left the movie, my first comment was that it was really unsatisfying [and yes, I did sound like a snob saying it]: this movie doesn’t have an ending! Having had some time to think about it, I think it’s more satisfying than I actually thought it was (if that makes any sense). In any case, it’s beautifully shot, well acted and extremely cruel.
As with most things, my satisfaction with it is all about the framing. If you go into the film expecting a story, you’re going to be disappointed. This movie doesn’t tell one [hence there’s no need for an ending]. This movie is a dissection. It dissects the German society before the World Wars trying to find the root of all evil that came during the wars, or at least an explanation for it.
And if you look at it this way, it actually becomes a masterpiece. What we get to see is a society where cruelty is expected of everybody, and in the end it’s even rewarded. Shows of softness, of kindness seem strangely out of place.
The movie is beautifully shot, with a lot of pictures that will stay in my mind for a long time. I read an interview with Haneke where he said that he shot the movie in black and white because we think of that time in black and white. Before it, there were a lot of painted portraits, which were in colour and after it, there was colour photography. But in this certain period, people relied on black and white photography and therefore the documents are all black and white, which again shapes our memory.
And this works extremely well. I’m not a fan of shooting films in black and white just for the sake of it, but I couldn’t imagine the stark worldview Haneke explores here in colour. I don’t think it would work as well.
The acting was really very excellent. Most of the actors were unknown (at least to me) but everybody was perfectly cast.
Summarising I’d say it’s a very good movie, but one that needs to be chewed on for a while. But definitely worth it.