I really wanted to like this movie, a nominee for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. It's very "artsy," not just because it's black and white, but by nature of its slow pacing and cryptic plot. I think sometimes I'm OK with a movie that does not have a clear resolution, or that has a lot of ambiguity, but this one left me dry.
That's not to say it's not a beautifully made film; it is! The black and white looks beautiful, and the atmosphere--a rural, pre-WW1 German village--was perfect. The characters were a little creepy. Strange things have been happening in this quite village, not paranormal strange, just criminal strange: the doctor's horse is tripped by a wire, injuring the doctor; a disabled child is beaten and tortured; a barn is burned. No motives, evidence, or answers present themselves, putting the townsfolk on edge. The real reason and culprit aren't clearly revealed; the point is the impact the actions have on the people.
In a way, this is reminscent of a Coen brothers film, or others of that genre, those films that explore the human nature that lurks beneath the surface. The normal-seeming, almost too-perfect people acting strangely, religious folks who turn out to be repressive, upstanding citizens who are really sleeping with the help, all fit in a Coen brothers type movie, with the setting being rural Germany rather than the suburbs of America.
I hate not to give this movie a great rating. Critically acclaimed, Cannes winner, artsy black-and-white--but ultimately, not completely to my taste. I will say it's a thought-provoking piece on the impact some escalating crimes can have on a peaceful town, and the moral breakdown that would permit them.
Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.