Horrific accidents. Children beaten and mistreated. A doctor on horseback tripped by a wire. A barn lit ablaze.
In Michael Haneke's ice-cold The White Ribbon, a tranquil country village in pre-World War I Germany is shaken by a series of disturbing, puzzling events.
As he did in 2005's stomach-churningly creepy Caché, the Austrian writer-director leaves the ultimate cause, or source, of such ominous circumstances unclear. There are clues to point this way or that, but Haneke - more interested in the psychology of his characters than in something as piddling as plot - doesn't bother with conclusions.
Instead, in The White Ribbon, we are left to contemplate the seeds of fascism: The film, in its depiction of children exposed to emotional and physical violence, to humiliation and betrayal, to bigotry and hate, and to an unloving brand of Protestantism, represents the awful future of Germany - a future that leads to the Holocaust.