The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon

When strange accidents occur in a german village they gradually take on the character of a punishment ritual. Studio: Sony Pictures Home Ent Release Date: 06/29/2010 Run time: 144 minutes Rating: RLike a Twilight Zone episode directed by Antonioni, The White Ribbon weaves an unsettling and enigmatic spell. Michael Haneke’s film is set just before World War I in a village in northern Germany, where a series of strange occurrences take place over several months. These occurrences are sinister

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  1. Chris Pandolfi says:
    82 of 88 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Village of the Damned, January 25, 2010
    By 
    Chris Pandolfi (Los Angeles, CA) –
    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)
      

    This review is from: The White Ribbon (DVD)

    Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” could be considered a mystery in that things happen for no apparent reason. The Doctor (Rainer Bock) breaks his arm after falling off his horse, which tripped over a wire strung between two trees. Not long after, someone abducts the eldest son of the Baron (Ulrich Tukur); he isn’t found until the next morning, at which point it’s discovered that he had been bound and beaten with a cane. A barn owned by the Pastor (Burghart Klaußner) is burned to the ground. The mentally challenged son of the Midwife (Susanne Lothar) is viciously attacked and almost blinded. Why is all of this happening? Are they acts of revenge? Are they punishments for the sin of weakness? Are they the beginnings of war, intolerance, and terrorism? Your guess is as good as mine. This movie isn’t about solutions.

    What is it about, then? The story takes place in the days before World War I, when authority was not questioned and life was lived according to much simpler routines. The setting is a German farming community, which has maintained stability by not upsetting the “natural order”; it was expected that the Baron would own the land, the men would have control over their women and children, and the peasants would not have the same rights as their superiors. The Pastor, for example, raises his children not to love God so much as fear Him, and he continuously instills the idea that they must feel guilty for everything that they do. So as to remind them of the path of righteousness from which they have strayed, he ties a white ribbon onto their arms – a symbol of purity.

    But in spite of outward appearances, purity is not something to be found behind closed doors. The Doctor, so kind and caring with his patients, grossly mistreats the Midwife and sexually abuses his daughter on a regular basis. The Baron is a demanding man who does what he wishes with no regard for anyone else, including his own workers. But was he, in fact, responsible for the death of a local woman? Or was it an accident? The woman’s husband, while grieving, knows that he can’t prove it either way. The woman’s son, on the other hand, is convinced of the Baron’s guilt. This leads to an act of retribution that generates even more hostility amongst the villagers. By then, memories of the previous incidents rise to the surface. Suspicion spreads. Distrust builds. People suffer.

    All this is told from the point of view of the Schoolteacher, who narrates as an old man (Ernst Jacobi) and is seen as a young man (Christian Friedel). Even though he courts a shy young woman named Eva (Leonie Benesch), he’s not a participant so much as an observer, and he begins the film with a direct statement: “I don’t know if the story I want to tell you is entirely true. Some of it I only know by hearsay. After so many years, a lot of it is still obscure and many questions remain unanswered.” Indeed, the film plays not as an intimate portrait but as an examination of the facts – cold, hard, and, to the best of its ability, honest. We see into the lives of the villagers, and yet we’re emotionally and physically kept at a distance, which probably accounts for the film’s beautiful yet haunting black and white photography. It would also account for specific shots that, in the hands of a different director, would reveal everything in graphic detail.

    Consider the scene in which the Pastor lashes his children as punishment for lying and disobedience; rather than actually show the act and its emotional aftermath, Haneke films the entire scene from outside the room with the door closed, and he ends it before the act is finished. Also consider a long shot of a coffin being wheeled out of the village on its way to the cemetery; the camera observes it from a far away location, never once cutting to the faces of the mourners flocking behind the carriage. This is not the kind of film that gives closure. It doesn’t even pretend that such a thing exists.

    The real genius of this film, however, is that the intricate subtexts are in service of a relatively simple story. We may not have all the answers, but at the same time, the goal is not to be confusing; the goal is to present the facts as accurately as possible, at which point we come to our own conclusions. If there are any to come to. Maybe we’re being told that, when a repressive way of life is preferred for the sake of maintaining the status quo, a different and more evil form of repression will eventually surface. It could be a totalitarian government. It could be religious extremism. It could even be genocide. Who knows? Anything is possible. “The White Ribbon” is a superb film – carefully paced and cleverly structured, mysterious but not gimmicky, subtle but not lacking substance.

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  2. Grigory's Girl "Grigory's Girl" says:
    77 of 87 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Haunting, strange, and eerie…a great film…, January 17, 2010
    This review is from: The White Ribbon (DVD)

    I have read much about Michael Haneke, but have never seen a film of his until this one. Haneke is a genuinely polarising filmmaker, some thinking he’s a great artist and others who think he’s a shock entertainer with no talent. So I went to see what all the hoopla was about with this film, which many people are calling his best.

    This is a great film.

    The White Ribbon is a deeply haunting, cerebral, strange, rewarding film, one that will make you think for days afterwards (a critic reviewing this film said it would haunt you for days. Try weeks!). Shot in beautiful, shimmering black and white (in fact, this is some of the best photography in a film that I’ve ever seen), the story revolves around a German village just prior to WWI, and the strange, eerie, creepy, and unsettling things going on around it. In some ways, The White Ribbon is reminiscent of unsettling horror films like Dreyer’s Vampyr and many J-horror films (like Kurosawa’s Cure) where things are deliberately left unanswered and the loose ends really puzzle you on a very deep, subconscious level. Many films have loose ends but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film have as many loose ends as this one does, but that’s a good thing. The film even starts with a narrator saying “I think it happened this way. I’m not really sure”. There are many nasty things going on, and many have suggested this is due to the repressed, religious upbringing of the village, but I’m not sure. To Haneke’s credit, he never answers these things directly, and he also doesn’t answer them in interviews that he’s done. This makes the film far more effective and deeply troubling. Even writing about the film now makes me uncomfortable. It’s that haunting, and that it is such a success on the arthouse circuit (it has already won the Palm d’Or at Cannes and just won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign film) is very encouraging.

    While I can’t judge a filmmaker on only one film, I think Haneke may in fact be the real thing. I plan on renting many more of his films (Cache and the original Funny Games), and I look forward to seeing more of his films.

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  3. Michael Jay Sullivan says:
    12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    An allegorical tale of a German Town without Pity or compassion, March 15, 2010
    By 
    Michael Jay Sullivan (Cambridge, Ma) –

    This review is from: The White Ribbon (DVD)

    Michael Haneke is arguably one of the finest directors in the world today. His works, like “Seven Continents,” “A House At the Lake,” and “The Piano Teacher” are quite troubling in may ways and in these works he often keenly captured the downside of the Postmodern Aesthetic, where often the world seems upside down.

    This work is different; rather than a post modern turn Haneke’s work has an almost premodern, very austere, sensibility with it’s portrayal of a nearly feudalistic German farming town the edge of of WWI. As is in his other works, particularly “A House on The Lake.” there is an increasing sense that something is not quite right in this bucolic setting.

    The town’s wealthier people (a Baron, a Minister, a Doctor, and a landowning farmer)all have a profound sense of entitlement, fatalism and are generally not nice people. The farmers,a modern version of medieval serfs, seem slightly more light hearted, but there is an increasing sense of dis-ease surrounding them. The only decent major character is the local school teacher, who also acts as the omniscient narrator looking back from the future (the narrator, the moral weaknesses and the black and white photography reminded me a bit of American film noir). Also the narrator who was 31 in the picture and sounds at least in his mid sixties (a time of the great war(s) and unprecedented bloodshed in the not too distant future). Besides the teacher and, to a lesser degree the baron’s wife, the only really decent and caring people are from elsewhere (e. g.; Eva the teacher’s shy but direct love interest, and the Italian woman who is brought back from Italy bu the Baroness to take care of her emotionally scarred children- however the investigative police brought in to solve the mysteries had a mean, almost gestapo like approach to “law and order.”

    The plot is marked by a series of heinous crimes and mishaps, which symbolize both the the town’s hypocrisy and the looming danger of “The Great War(s)” ahead. There is definitely a lot of familial viscountess here: the doctor’s incestuous relations of his daughter and sadistic treatment of his midwife, the mean spirited actions of the Baron towards his employees, his workers and his family, the punitive treatment of the somewhat hypocritical minister towards his children: for example his tying his young adolescent sons hands during the night to prevent any nervous degeneration through masturbation, which for Victorian age Europeans was often thought as the cause of many major maladies; as well as the white ribbons he forces his children to wear, like a scarlet letter, for their very minor moral transgressions.

    Finally I assert this movie is an allegory of the beginning of the Germanic quest for domination (and a microcosm of the then German national identity that carried out the “final solution) , which portends to atrocities, death, and destruction yet to afflict all Germans- including those in remote hamlets like this movie takes place. The children who face varying levels of blind brutality in 1913-1914 in this bucolic setting could very well play a major role in the Nazi induced horrors 25+ years later. And the sadism they are exposed too in their tiny town they could well have led too such sadism inflicted on the world by the German people.

    Although shot in a small setting, this is a big, and extremely though provoking, movie, and is definitely worth looking at twice due to the subtle nuances and the underlying thematic elements. As usual Haeneke, a little like Lars Von Trier (e. g.; his movie “Europa”),provides a disturbing message about the past, the present and the future.

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