A brutal black and white film by Michael Haneke about the shame of masturbation, animal mutilation, incest and the symbolism of pierced ears, torturing the retarded, bleak and swift suicide, a meditation on sin,ritualized punishment, cruelty and the hardness of hearts, guilt and innocence, apathy and revenge. So many crazy events occur in this little German village on the eve of WWI that pretty soon the villagers are looking around at each other with very suspicious eyes – and so are we. The children seem to be at the heart of this mystery and I can’t help but think that they’re exactly the generation who would become Nazis. The children, whether or not they’re responsible for the mysterious atrocities, have no escape from their relentlessly punitive lives, and for nearly two and a half hours, neither do we.
Whose job is it to prevent evil? Why do we strive to puzzle out random acts? Are we willing to surrender freedom to mitigate danger? Heneke hints at a lot of uncomfortable questions and if you dare to watch, you’ll find it’s not just a question of whodunnit, and even if you ask the right questions, there’s no telling if you’ll ever find the answers.