The devil’s in the unexceptional details here and that’s what makes it all the more nightmarish (or tedious depending on your mood). At a controlled, modest pace we follow Michael, a drab Austrian insurance salesman and his child prisoner, Wolfgang, through their day-to-day no faster than the speed at which they’re living it.
Truly bleak pins and needles moments take their shape through cold lenses when the camera time and again locks tightly on something as commonplace as the two side by side washing dishes. Silhouetted here, a simple comparison of their stature can usher continuous waves of discomfort.
Markus Schleinzer served as casting director for White Ribbon (along with many other Haneke films) and his expertise coaching children in that particular selection is reflected in David Rachenberger’s impressively unguarded performance as young Wolfgang. On the other hand, an uncanny resemblance to Tony Hale’s “Buster” Bluth from Arrested Development can take a bit away from the Fuith’s portrayal of the nominal character. However, if he happened to utter a line similar to “Hey, brother!” the dark humor peppered throughout would have buffered an otherwise out of place laugh.
Admittedly, I’d put up defenses in case it took the whole route of chastising the audience for anticipating something, anything more revealing. And what sits well with me even a couple days later is that it wasn’t on his agenda. Michael provokes a conversation worth having and loosens the lid on a few cans of worms. In this case, they’re of the parasitic, decomposing and corrupting variety.