The White Ribbon

 Michael Haneke has been a pretty polarizing filmmaker for at least 25 years. You know, one of those "love him or hate him" artists, where people are either excited every time they hear he has a new film coming out, or they can't stand him and can't understand why or how other people actually like his work. He's definitely not the guy you turn to if you want escapist entertainment. But in the last few years he seems to be broadening out, making films that are no less challenging pieces of art, but might also be more palatable for mainstream audiences. He actually even got Oscar nominations (writing and directing) for his last film, Amour. And this film here, his previous, I think is the one that first bridged that gap: The White Ribbon.

Update 11/10/20: I've added the French TF1 blu-ray from their 2013 'Le Cinéma de Michael Haneke' boxed set. It's not English friendly, but just for the record, 'ey?
But don't let that and the title fool you. The White Ribbon is absolutely not The Red Balloon. Yeah, children play a big part in this one, too. The children are much more like the ones from Who Can Kill a Child, which if you haven't seen it, gives you a much better sense of its tone from its title. In this stark, black and white film, the inhabitants of a small German village, isolated from initial stirrings of World War I, are suffering some tragic losses. But it's possibly their own fault, even as it's at the hands of their children. So yeah, this is still about as far from puerility and sentimentality as you can get. But it's more relatable and touching than most of his earlier work, and it doesn't use any audience-frustrating devices like Funny Games. It looks like an old Bergman film and the performances are as powerful as always with Haneke. But this one's riveting and I think even people who felt they "hated" earlier Haneke films would have a hard time dismissing it.

That's assuming they could actually make out any of the dialogue, however. Jeepers creepers, the subtitles are small and challenging on Sony's US blu-ray release! They're also white (at least with a thin black outline) on top of a black and white movie. I mean, it's a black and white movie: the perfect opportunity to use colored subs that would also stand well out. Just look at this:
And I could've intentionally picked some worse shots that make it ever harder to read, but I wanted to be fair. Granted, their are better, darker scenes, but there are some that really swallow up the little font. Like, why is it all bunched up in the middle there, not even along the bottom? The concurrent DVD release isn't the best (I still don't get why they're up there in front of the actor while there's so much empty space below), but the subs are substantially larger and more legible.  Fortunately, however, there is another subtitle option, not listed on the menu but accessible with your remote, that puts black bars behind the subs, making them very easy to read... thanks goodness I found them!

How crazy would it be to have to opt for the DVD over the blu just so you could read the subs?  Especially since, as with Warner Bros' Informant, it's missing compelling extras that are only included on the blu. TF1's newer blu actually gives you the option between white and colored subtitles; but of course, they're French only, so fat lot of good that does most of us.
Sony 2009 blu-ray top; Sony 2009 BD mid; 2013 TF1 BD bottom.

All three images are slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1. Sony's DVD and blu are naturally the same transfer and the same in most respects, but TF1 turns out to use the same one, too.  Of course the HD images are superior; check out the extra detail in the blu-ray crowd shots as opposed to the DVD's. Look at the girl in white on the stairs who's facing the audience - she actually has eyes on the blu-rays. Overall, the picture is smoother, more natural and without all the compression artifacts that always separate a DVD from a blu.

The US blu-ray also has two crisp 5.1 DTS-HD audio tracks, with bonus the original full German tracks, or one with English narration, but the dialogue still in German. Whereas the DVD just as the one German 5.1 track.  TF1 has a bevy of audio options, lossless and lossy, with the original German or French translation, but none of it in English.
And yeah, the DVD really falls short in the extras department. I guess Sony was doing the same as Warners, cutting all the extras from the DVD to compel people to switch to blu-rays? Well, it's too bad for DVD viewers, because the extras here are deeper and more substantial than your average Haneke film. First of all, there's a great 40-minute making of documentary that looks at everything behind the scenes of this film. Then there's your typical but always welcome Haneke interview where he talks about the film for about 14 minutes. After that, there's a 50 minute retrospective on Haneke and his work. And finally there's a 19 minute featurette on the film at Cannes. Oh, and there's the trailer, plus a bunch of bonus trailers for other Sony Pictures Classics titles.

The DVD just has the trailer. And TF1, well, they've got most of the same goodies as the Sony blu - just none of it English friendly.  They're just missing the 14 minute Haneke interview, which they've replaced with their own original featurette with two French critics.  Of course, that's not in English either.
So it's an easy choice. The DVD sucks and the French blu is useless unless you an read French.  So eleven years later, the old Sony blu still rules the roost.

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