Sunday, January 31, 2010

'The White Ribbon' and Comparative Politics

Okay, as promised, here's a little update on The White Ribbon. I went to last night's late showing at Irvine's Westpark 8:

I saw Spiderman at Westpark in 2002, but the theater's an art-house cineplex now. Below is a poster of the Village Voice's movie review "Certainty and a Sure Hand Behind The White Ribbon's Unsolved Mystery":

The White Ribbon is Michael Haneke's first German-language film since the original Funny Games (1997) and, addressing what used to be called "the German problem" while dodging the filmmaker's own likeability issues, it's his best ever.

A period piece set on the eve of World War I in an echt Protestant, still-feudal village somewhere in the uptight depths of Northern Germany, The White Ribbon—which won a deserved Palme d'Or at last May's Cannes-fest of Cruelty—is as cold and creepy and secretly cheesy as any of Haneke's earlier films, if not quite as lofty. Instead of sermonizing, Haneke sets himself to honest craftsmanship. Detailed yet oblique, leisurely but compelling, perfectly cast and irreproachably acted, the movie has a seductively novelistic texture complete with a less-than-omniscient narrator hinting at a weighty historical thesis: It's Village of the Damned as re-imagined by Thomas Mann after studying August Sander's photographs of German types while perusing Wilhelm Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism.
Actually, it's still called "the German problem," at least for students of comparative politics and international relations. No doubt such descriptions are unfashionable in the postmodern academy, but a key problématique in comparative political science is in explaining transitions to democracy, especially among the nations of the advanced industrialized West. The German case is perhaps the most fascinating for late-developing democracies, which for Germany doesn't come until after WWII. Perhaps more than any other nation before the 1920s and interwar period, Germany's political culture of paternalistic authoritarianism overdetermined the political regime toward the rise Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich. As Lawrence Mayer has written, in Comparative Politics: Nations and Theories in a Changing World:

Among the themes in the German culture that have been identified as conducive to the emergence of the Nazi dictatorship are the following: a submissive, authoritarian culture; an anti-intellectual and antirational romanticism; what has been called Volkishness -- a combination of anti-intellectual romanticism and a distorted form of populism and xenophobia; an exaggerated form of nationalism with a corresponding rejection of internationalism; a glorification of war and martial values; a hostility to the West and modernism and their values; and a deeply rooted hostility to the Jews.

Several scholars conducted immediate postwar studies whose data indicate a strong strain of authoritarianism in the German familly and in other social relations, such as those between teacher and student, employer and employee, and even husband and wife. Related to this is the finding of the classic Civic Culture study that, compared to the citizens of the Anglo-American democracies, citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany felt less competent to participate effectively in political activity.
Mayer goes on to stress that such an explanatory scheme is grossly inadequate in explaining the enormity of the origins of Nazi totalitarianism, and Germany was not uniquiqely isolated in its oppressive cultural attributes when compared to Eastern European regimes. But in the totality of things, this cultural composite, which came together with the specific geographical factors contributing to a sense of German praetorianism in the 19th century, provides a powerful framework for understanding the regime prior to the 1920s and 1930s, and of course for explaining the reengineering of German culture after 1945.

Thus, with this in mind, the critical acclaim for
The White Ribbon is entirely understandable. It's not just the film's cinematic exellence and powerful acting, but its complete authenticity of historical presentation.

Readers might check the review at the Los Angeles Times as well, "
'The White Ribbon': Michael Haneke Attempts to Explain the Seeds of Nazism in his Cautionary Tale."

3 comments:

The Griper said...

i would argue that what happened in Germany could have happened in any one of the European States. The fact that Russia had Stalin and the fact that Italy had Mussolini is evidence of this. and we cannot forget the Napoleon times of France can easily be attributed to the same type of mindset of each society.

i would further argue that it is still that same mindset that has led the European nations to the idea of socialism that is prevalent over there.

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

You can tell it's serious because it's in black and white. Serious directors have all the fun.

BZ

EDGE said...

Sony Classics has had a number of great foreign films in the past including "The Lives of Others" and "Burnt by the Sun". I highly recommend them both.