Short Takes: Innocence Lost

The White Ribbon explores the possible roots of Nazism

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The White Ribbon

Winner of the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival, the latest — and most accessible — work to date by Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke (Caché, The Piano Teacher) is a mesmerizing fable about the (possible) roots of Nazism. Set in pre-WWI Germany, the film is narrated by a schoolteacher (Christian Friedel) who looks back on the curious events that occurred in the seemingly bucolic village of Eichwald many years earlier. While it includes some of the same irrational cruelty and otherworldly weirdness that have marked earlier Haneke movies like Funny Games (both versions), this is more classical in style (you can see echoes of both Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ingmar Bergman) and story structure, and it exerts the same inexorable pull as a great yarn. As always, Haneke reveals his secrets only gradually, but Christian Berger's stunningly beautiful, Oscar-nominated B&W cinematography insures that you're hooked every step of the way. The fact that The White Ribbon features what may well be the first genuinely innocent characters in Haneke's entire oeuvre — the kindhearted teacher and the 17-year-old nanny he chastely courts and eventually marries — might explain why even non-fans have embraced this film. The fact that it's possibly his masterpiece could be another. — Milan Paurich

Opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre

Brighton Rock

Adapted from a Graham Greene novel, this 1947 British gangster film was quite a shocker in its day (Mutilated bodies! Gangland warfare! Double-crossing snitches!). It's still a solid piece of filmmaking by director John Boulting, even if some of the onscreen violence seems a bit tame by modern standards. After rackets runner Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough) murders a rival, a boozy barfly (Hermione Baddeley) who was hanging out with the victim right before he was killed begins snooping around. Meanwhile, Pinkie tries to get his small-time gang some respect on the street and cozies up to a young, innocent waitress (a radiant Carol Marsh), who's inadvertently connected to the crime. The script (co-written by Greene) is tough. So are the characters. Pinkie is ruthless, at one point tossing one of his cronies off a balcony. The film is also quite suspenseful, particularly during the long opening scene when thugs pursue an unfortunate victim through Brighton's daylight streets and into a dark carnival funhouse. This brutal British noir is grittier than many of its contemporaries in the U.S, where it was originally known as Young Scarface. That title is earned. Brighton Rock's lineage can be traced all the way to modern mob classics like The Godfather, Scarface and GoodFellas. —Michael Gallucci

Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque

At 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27

and 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28

Witchcraft Through the Ages

This is the 76-minute 1968 re-release of the 104-minute silent documentary re-enactment of medieval-European views of the devil and his works, with filmmaker Benjamin Christensen as a fat, long-clawed and tongue-lolling Satan, corrupting lust-afflicted clergy and wives in the 15th and 16th centuries. Christensen's intent was not to promote superstition but to debunk it, showing quivering old village crones and defenseless girls victimized by churchmen and baseless gossip; modern-science psychology explains it all in the end. But what sticks is imagery that depicts the primal fear and torture-forced confessions that fueled witch-hunt hysteria. Witches soar on broomsticks, cutout monsters chew sinners, stop-motion and strikingly costumed demons throw convents into chaos — all like medieval woodcuts come to nightmare life. Nudity and morbid violence (actually quite mild on both counts) inspired this film's frequent banning, though this '68 version, with narration by William S. Burroughs (neatly replacing long minutes of explanatory title cards) and a jazz soundtrack featuring the violin of Jean-Luc Ponty, borders on being more of "head" film than a hard-headed skeptical expose of the occult. Recall that the Age of Aquarius was in full swing, the Church of Satan was booming in San Francisco and Ouija boards outsold Monopoly. So much for irony as a teaching tool. — Charles Cassady Jr.

Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25

and 11:45 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26

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