Sexual Repression Caused World War I
. . . and a lot of other Bad Things, like Fascism. This is the thesis of The White Ribbon, a new movie by acclaimed Austrian director Michael Haneke that has been winning awards (Palme d’Or at Cannes) and plaudits in both Europe and the U.S. One critic has written that the film “feels like a classic even as you are watching it for the first time” — and this is actually true, in both a positive and a negative sense. The visual composition is extremely soigné, and Haneke’s use of light in his black-and-white exteriors (especially in snowscapes) is so breathtaking you sometimes feel the way you do when looking into a Vermeer. The 1912-14 period detail is so painstaking that the movie could pass, visually, for a silent of that era. Unfortunately, the film’s point, too, has a period flavor, having become hackneyed in the past century or so of iterations: Society used to repress sex, which led people to great cruelties and perversions; sexual liberation will help engender physical and social health. My problem with this idea is not that it is wrong, but that the insistence upon it is becoming tiresome — it has the character of pushing on an open door. The White Ribbon has the outward feel of a masterpiece; but probe below the surface, all the sadistic cruelties it display, and you’ll find that all it really is Footloose without the laughs.