Michael Haneke, The White Ribbon, 2009, still from a black-and-white film in 35 mm, 144 minutes.

EVERY YEAR, Cannes aims to strike a balance between feting the work of old masters—many of the directors with films in competition are several years north of qualifying for AARP membership—while also being the place where new talent is discovered. Representing the old guard, Michael Haneke, whose stern, black-and-white The White Ribbon—set in the years just before World War I in a German hamlet where a series of beastly unsolved incidents begins to occur—screened last night, was introduced by the trilingual moderator at this afternoon’s press conference as “one of the leading lights” of Cannes, returning to the festival for the ninth time, the sixth with a film in competition. Herr Haneke may be a leading light, but his view of the world is as dark as the funereal outfit he wore today; even children are complicit in evil in his latest. Greeted by several bravos from journos, Haneke dispensed with the usual politesse at these gatherings. “This film is obviously not a model. With due apologies, I find your question somewhat absurd,” Haneke replied to the reporter who naively wondered whether there weren’t other possibilities for children.

Some of those possibilities are found in writer-helmer Axelle Ropert’s first feature, the Directors’ Fortnight title The Wolberg Family, a smart and funny examination of nuclear bonds that reaches aural sublimity with its sound track of lesser-known ’60s soul nuggets (the paterfamilias, mayor of a southwestern French town, dedicates a plaque to soulstress Maxine Brown before a group a tiny school kids). “Family isn’t sexy,” notes daughter Delphine (Léopoldine Serre), who’s just shy of eighteen—merely one example of Ropert’s concise observations about the constant struggle to negotiate private lives versus ones shared with kin. Ropert, who cowrote Serge Bozon’s enchanting, otherworldly World War I musical La France (which premiered at the Fortnight in 2007), is in contention for the Caméra d’Or, given to the best first film at Cannes. Whether she wins or loses, I hope she beats Haneke’s record for return visits to the Croisette.

Melissa Anderson