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The film follows the fate of a small village of Germany’s early 20th century. Triggered by a number of accidents and small assaults, the narrator takes us through the characters one by one to provide us with an image of regular life at the time, while setting up a thrilling whodunnit. It is Haneke’s masterful storytelling (with Jean-Claude Carriere supporting the scriptwriting) that this odd combination of period piece, crime story, psychological thriller and cruel relationship drama stays on track. It is hard to say how to judge all these characters that according to modern standards would all be called thugs, villains, sadists, masochists, and what not. The priest is a ghastly patriarch, his hypocrisy exposed in how he treats his and his son’s bird. The doctor is a disgustingly cruel abuser of his the women who help him sustain his life. The administrator almost beats his son to pieces. The farmer leaves his son alone in his desperation. And so on. It is a bleak world in which there are only very few warm-hearted and honest moments, most of them involving the young love between the village teacher and a young maid. The only way out of the misery is to flee, and some do, such as the Baronesse with her children, or the midwive with her handicapped and abused son.
The bleakness culminates in answering not a single of the questions raised during the film –stressing how rarely life offers closure and satisfaction. You may judge life for this, but it does not help yo either.
Brilliant black-and-white photography stresses the bleakness, but actually also allows for stunningly beautiful and eerie images, such as a devastated field of cabbage or a snow-white and crystal-clear winter landscape, the snowfields virgin in a way that hardly can be seen today.
Brilliant movie by one of the world’s greatest filmmakers of the time.

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