Michael Haneke, some critics would have us believe, is a hard-line, self-hating, bourgeois cine-fascist, forcing his self-flagellating, antagonistic, leftist, agit-prop films onto an unwitting public. Of course, they’re wrong, and probably too far gone down the Nespresso highway to spare a moment’s consideration for the implications of their own blithe, often destructive actions – commercial, spectatorial or interpersonal, as the case may be. The White Ribbon, for those willing amongst us, is a work of unmitigated genius. Haneke, as one of the world’s most unflinchingly moral of auteurs, casts his eye on a nameless north German town, pre-WWI, and burrows beneath its rather unremarkable semblance to explore a cycle of guilt, cruelty and violence which causes its society (microcosmic of, perhaps, pre-War Germany as a whole) to both function and, on a personal level, rupture. As a refinement of his distinctive style, and a more calculated approach to themes he has often dealt with, one might describe it as his masterpiece. By defying narrow allegory and refusing the “easy” answers often provided for filmgoers, Haneke forces us to engage, morally and critically, with the narrative. His careful manipulation of sound (a common feature in his films) is unsettling, and, at times, monstrous. There is no respite from the spectre of violence and anger, and the inevitability of some disastrous conclusion to the story (manifested historically in the approaching WWI) lingers in the back of one’s mind while watching, giving meaning to, and complicating, the diegesis. Haneke’s film’s have often dealt with the destructive, callous actions and attitudes of the bourgeoisie, alienating as many viewers as he has delighted. With the temporal alienation that comes with setting The White Ribbon at the beginning of the 20th century, he may have won transcendent appeal across the middle-classes (as evidenced by its awarding of the Palme d’Or at Cannes), though fortunately without compromising his unique, visceral style.