"As is the case with several films in this year's New York Film Festival, Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon exemplifies the pleasures and drawbacks of auteurism," begins Eric Hynes in Reverse Shot. "On one hand, familiarity with Haneke's (or Denis's or Dumont's or Breillat's or Resnais's or Rivette's) filmography deepens our understanding of his latest film. We can see patterns, hear rhymes and echoes, obsess over variations, while monitoring the path of a larger career arc - the director's progress and maturation. On the other hand, we're all too familiar with what's in store. Viewed in relation to previous work, new films can seem not so new. They are too familiar. Which side gets the upper hand largely depends on one's appreciation or affection for the filmmaker (and filmmaking project) in question. Even indefatigable auteurists, for whom pattern itself - rather than the meaning of the revisited gesture or theme - is sacrosanct, can play favorites. At this point in his career, especially after his disastrous stunt remake of his own Funny Games, Haneke has as many detractors as he has supporters, and The White Ribbon will repel or reward them accordingly. And as it happens, each response will be justified."
Acquarello finds the film to be "a crystallization of his recurring preoccupations with the ambiguity of truth, class division, surveillance, and the violence of repression."
"Ever wonder about the ancestors of the murderous jocks in Funny Games?" asks Fernando F Croce in Slant. "In the Palme d'Or-winning The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke time travels to rural Germany on the cusp of WWI to find the answer - or, rather, to make the audience's collective skin crawl at the question. The setting is the small village of Eichwald, a bucolic commune that, presided over by such stern patriarchs as the landowning baron (Ulrich Tukur) and the pastor (Burghart Klaussner), is presented as a 19th-century holdover inexorably giving way to the darkening modernity of new times. Not that Haneke displays much nostalgia for the town's traditions: Life here is dismal, oppressive, and rigidly hierarchical, erected on puritanical morals and reinforced with ritualized punishment. Hitler - the 'bitter flower of German irrationalism,' as Hans-Jürgen Syberberg once put it - may still lurk beyond the horizon, but the seeds of fascism have already been sown in society's unquestioning adherence to power strictures."
"[T]he impression that we are to be taking something instructive from the film, perhaps something to do with the seeds of Nazi Germany, makes the experience seem fairly contrived, indeed," finds Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "In spite of its ethereal, uncanny imagery and occasionally more humane moments, The White Ribbon demonstrates a fairly one-sided view of parents and their children, and its supposed application to the 'what happened later' that the narrator vaguely defines is strangely simplistic for such a thoughtful filmmaker. Still, there is a final irony in Haneke's title, as the film itself is something of a white ribbon: a haughty reminder of what is pure, clear, and true that ends up having the opposite effect."
Henry Stewart, writing for the L Magazine, finds in the film a suggestion that "if no one is guilty, then everyone is: that the problem is not one of individuals, but of societies; that cultural violence demands collective culpability. As a moral, that’s distinctly German - but, unfortunately, not exclusively."
Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "There's much to admire in Haneke's typically dim treatise on human nature; the ever-present threat of something random and terrible happening lends the film a queasy tension that stretches over even its most tedious moments. But it's nonetheless a disappointment by his high standards, carried by a view of humanity's fundamental debasement that cries out for more, well, color."
"I like to think of The White Ribbon as Michael Haneke's version of Peyton Place." Paul Matwychuk is not alone; Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York: "The black-and-white visuals astonish, but it still plays like Peyton Place on the Rhine, literally drained of all color and with the melodrama performed monotone."
For IFC, Vadim Rizov reports on the NYFF press conference (and Ed Champion's got a recording): "Things started easily enough... And then it got weird... 'I just want to ask if you have some abiding sadness in you.' Haneke's answer: 'I don't think I'm a depressive, but you'd probably best ask my wife, who's sitting at the back of the theater.' With that, the most unintentionally hilarious press conference of the festival was over, and 'abiding sadness' became my new favorite phrase."
At an earlier press conference, the one in Telluride, Brandon Colvin, who's mightily impressed by the film, "worked up the gumption to raise my hand." He transcribes his memory of the question and the answer. Then: "As he moved onto the next question, I remained dazed for a few seconds. Michael Haneke and I had just talked about Robert Bresson, the filmmaker we both held in the highest regard, above all others. It was surreal. It was one of the highlights of my life."
Catherine Grant gathers a "Ribbon" of Haneke-related links.
Meantime, "Isabelle Huppert and Michael Haneke will join forces yet again for the director's latest project, which begins filming next year," notes Joe Bowman.
Earlier: Reviews from Cannes - and "How German Is It," though I should add that, since posting that entry, I've learned that Germany put up a full 50% of the budget, whereas the other half was shared by Austria, France and Italy.