A disturbing film set in the months between the middle of 1913 and the start of World War One the following year, Haneke tells of events in a small German village starting with the local doctor's fall when his horse is deliberately tripped by a hidden wire. This is followed by the death of a tenant farmer's wife while working for the local baron, the taking and abusing of his
son, the burning of the grain barn and the suicide of the tenant farmer, a further incident with the baron's son and, finally, the severe abusing of the local midwife's Down's syndrome son. The setting provides an unsettling undertone with the local
pastor demonstrating excessive strictness to his older children in particular, the children of the village going round together and turning up unexpectly almost as a band of Furies, resentment of the baron's treatment of his tenants and, near the denouement of the film, a very nasty dismissal by the doctor of his midwife mistress, Add to this, his sexual use of his daughter (this is underplayed) and the basic poverty of the area (there is one bicycle owned by the estate, for instance) and one is left with an overall impression that is anything but pleasant. The camerawork is brilliant and the acting solid without being outstanding. It is easy to see the seeds of Nazism in the film with the feudal nature of the village at a time of improving education and conditions in the towns but I felt that the pastor's treatment of his older children and the generally repressive nature of his teachings allowed the daughter especially to lead the others doing the unpleasant things they did.
A little overlong, this is probably Haneke's best film; I certainly rate it above both 'Funny Games' and 'Hidden'.