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“The White Ribbon” and “Divided Heaven” on DVD

“The White Ribbon” and “Divided Heaven” on DVD (photo)

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Approaching 70 years of age, Michael Haneke is one of the best we’ve got, a filmmaker you wait for to save any given year in the last decade from banality, sloppiness and forgettability. His run since the turn of the century (excluding, I think, the unnecessary 2007 American remake of the nastily high-handed “Funny Games”) has few rivals, and with luck, he’ll be blessed with a Ridley Scott-like septuagenarian workaholism and keep one-upping himself for years to come.

Each Haneke film is a shock to the system — “Cache” (2005) remains a thunderbolt for the ages, while it seems too few viewers have come to terms with “Time of the Wolf” (2003) — and “The White Ribbon” (2009) delivered another unforeseeable jolt, a brooding, Bergman-esque portrait of historical tragedy in which something terrible is happening and we’re never quite sure what.

06292010_WhiteRibbon2.jpgBut of course, we’re pretty sure it’s the children — Haneke’s original subtitle for the German version is “A German Children’s Story,” and while the homicidal disasters that befall the tiny, pre-WWI Mitteleuropean village could be anyone’s doing, the blond, oppressed herd of Protestant children are the most likely suspects (to us) and the most actively suspicious.

The mystery is no mystery — the movie has a “Village of the Damned” menace lurking in its fastidious black and white compositions, just as it lurks beneath the colorless rectitude of the feudal town’s Calvinist fathers.

But the “truth” of what’s going on stays permanently buried. Rather, as with all Haneke, the emphasis is on cause and effect, how catastrophe and evil only sprout in fields properly harrowed by human folly, and how the trauma, when it comes, rewards the powerful and complacent with their worst nightmares. It’s a gripping, secretive film, and the fact that the filmmaker keeps the “plot” unresolved is perfectly in keeping with his moral position.

06292010_thewhiteribbon89.jpgHaneke is a terrorism scholar, a comeuppance expert, and the flowchart for his stories could explain the birth of Al Qaeda as something inevitable and destined and even deserved. You heap on self-serving abuse and privation, and the chickens will come home to roost.

In “The White Ribbon,” few prime-mover venalities are left out for the men, particular the village pastor (who hogties his son rather than have him masturbate at night) and the widowed doctor, who uses his 14-year-old daughter for sex. Parenting was not early-century Protestant Germany’s strong suit, it seems, and so the children fight back, off-screen and with implacably innocent faces, like the unseen hand of an entirely different God.

Extreme Protestantism is the film’s main whipping boy, and it’s in these extra undergarment layers where I find myself uncertain of Haneke’s mission. You cannot torch monotheism too thoroughly for me, generally speaking, but “The White Ribbon” can’t merely be about the crazy religious repression of yesteryear. What is the point of it?

06292010_WhiteRibbon3.jpgThe movie’s elusive metaphoric idea is made plain by a single line of narration — years after the events depicted, the narrator suggests that they “may cast a new light on some of the goings-on in this country.” We reflexively take this as the rise of National Socialism, of course.

But how seriously are we supposed to take that equation, proto-Calvinist abuse + time = the Holocaust? Do these placid but vengeful children grow up to be Gestapo? Does Haneke think the Christian dread of sexuality was responsible for WWII? Or is it just a Germanic thing, and I wouldn’t understand?

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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