The White Ribbon (2009)

The White Ribbon (2009)
7.8
  • 66855
  • R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release year: 2009 ()
  • Running time: 144 min
  • Original Title: Das weiße Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte
  • Voted: 66855

From July, 1913 to the outbreak of World War I, a series of incidents take place in a German village. A horse trips on a wire and throws the rider; a woman falls to her death through rotted planks; the local baron's son is hung upside down in a mill; parents slap and bully their children; a man is cruel to his long-suffering lover; another sexually abuses his daughter. People disappear. A callow teacher, who courts a nanny in the baron's household, narrates the story and tries to investigate the connections among these accidents and crimes. What is foreshadowed? Are the children holy innocents? God may be in His heaven, but all is not right with the world; the center cannot hold.

#PersonCharacters
1Christian FriedelThe School Teacher
2Ernst JacobiThe School Teacher as an Old Man
3Leonie BeneschEva
4Ulrich TukurThe Baron
  • A careful and ambiguous analysis of evil by 8

    Fans of Michael Haneke's more morally shocking films such as 'Funny Games', 'Benny's Video' or the draining 'Time of the Wolf' might find themselves surprised by the quieter and slower analysis of evil in his latest work 'Das Weisse Band'.

    The action takes place in a North German village shortly before the outbreak of the First World War and in structure presents a number of subtly drawn individual characters as they are caught up in a mysterious series of violent events.

    In the hands of a mere moralist this could be an unbearable few hours. But it's credit to Haneke's skill as a film-maker that we are utterly caught up and absorbed by a large cast of children and adults.

    One of the on-going arguments in Haneke's films appears to be the origins of human evil, or perhaps more precisely put, individual acts of evil behaviour. Are such acts an individual's responsibility or do they spring from a climate in which particular energies are at work? This is the question Haneke appears to be exploring here (just as was a central question relating to French society in 'Cache').

    One of the most disturbing things at the heart of the film is the fact that we do not know why particular acts of evil take place (including the maiming of a disabled child and the beating of a nobleman's son), or even who commits them. However, this is no 'whodunnit', although with its retrospective voice-over from the School Teacher's p.o.v. we are let to believe for a long time that were in a crime/thriller genre.

    Throughout his body of work so far, Haneke has suggested that looking for the sort of easy answers films and TV all too readily supply is partly responsible for our misunderstanding how violence in society occurs. (Funny Games).

    'The White Ribbon' bypasses the usual dramatical devices of motivation and blame and instead softly focuses on an environment (in this case Germany in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century) in which certain unhealthy energies are at work.

    These energies include an emotionally repressed and joyless Protestantism, the mistreatment and oppression of women, the familial abuse of children, the fetishism of strong masculine and patriarchal values, and the un-breachable divide between the rich and the poor. Set over all this, like an umbrella, is the fact that the small provincial society depicted in the film is all but completely isolated from wider society.

    Another poster here has pointed out that Haneke is using his village as a microcosm to reflect Germany as a whole, and I would agree with that. Haneke's Dorf, whilst having an individual character, is a relative of Von Trier's Dogville in the sense that it stands for a larger set of national values. In this respect Haneke seems to be diagnosing German society in the run up to the 'Great' War as one of authoritarianism, religious doubt, intolerance, and fear.

    What is remarkable in such a film is how little human joy or love is to be found in such a seemingly idyllic rural landscape. The love strand (between the narrator Teacher and the dismissed 17 yr old children's nurse) has a rather strained aspect. It is as though the film maker is suggesting that affection might also be down to available opportunity.

    One of the most moving scenes in The White Ribbon is when a young child brings his father, a Priest, a caged bird he has nursed back to health. The father's beloved pet canary was killed (by his daughter as a protest against the bleak, loveless household she's been reared in - a home in which a father shows more affection to a small bird than his own children.

    Thus the scene symbolically depicts a child demonstrating the love that the parent himself is unable of showing. Tears fill the priest's eyes. It is a tiny moment of love and hope in an otherwise emotionally barren wasteland. It is also a symbol of how a new generations of Germans have dealt with, and healed, previous decades of pain.

  • Haunting Prequel to the Third Reich by 8

    Filmed beautifully in black and white with subtitles, The White Ribbon is a movie that will leave viewers with a lasting residue long after it ends. The film portrays the residents of a northern German village, dominated by a baron, sometime before World War I.

    Inhabitants of this village, young and old, are sliding down the slippery slope of moral decline. The men in leadership positions - a doctor and clergyman, for example - are detestable, especially in their treatment of women and children. The most brutal scene in the movie, perhaps, was not one that portrayed physical violence, but verbal abuse towards a woman that served faithfully as caretaker, and more, for the town's widowed physician. As for the some of the children, although it is only suggested, it appears that they are budding sociopaths that perpetrate despicable acts against others.

    Weeks after seeing this film, I started thinking more deeply about the children in this town. I realized that they would become young adults during the time Hitler would rise in power. They live an incubator in which the cruelty that they experience they, in turn, perpetrate against unsuspecting victims. Their circumstances are such that they are being unwittingly primed for carrying out the atrocities that will come to characterize their future in Nazi Germany. The White Ribbon is a prequel for the rise of the Third Reich.

    Seeing this film led me to wonder about what present times are a prequel for.

  • This is a movie against all extremisms by 9

    In an interview with the French newspaper "Le Monde" on 10/20/09, published on 10/21/09, Michael Haneke has explicitly and unequivocally declared his intentions in making the movie "The White Ribbon":

    He intended to make a movie about the roots of evil. He said that he believed that the environment of extreme, punitive and sexually repressive protestantism in Germany, has laid the groundwork for Fascism and Nazism. He also said that he saw the same patterns developing in fundamentalist Muslim societies today, and that it is those societies that today were spawning terrorists and suicide bombers. Finally, he expressed the sentiment that "The White Ribbon" is a movie against ALL extremisms.

    Michael Haneke has directed his vision in a very masterful and artful way: the cinematography, the acting, and the script are all superb.

    The only problem I have is with the vision itself: The environment certainly plays a role, but to explain evil exclusively as the product of one's environment is simplistic and goes against common sense observation: The majority of people on this earth have grown up under repressive regimes and yet have NOT turned out to become murderers, mass murderers, terrorists or suicide bombers. Something is missing in the equation.

  • Exquisite and brooding mood-piece by 10

    Few film auteurs can match the consistency of Michael Haneke, and once again the Austrian filmmaker has come up trumps with an exquisite and brooding mediation on repression, tradition and the sins of the father.

    Shot in stunning black and white, the film chronicles a series of mysterious events in a town leading up to the outbreak of WWI. The pace is slow and thoughtful, and the film is reference to August Sander while being a respectful throwback to the German expressionists whose work would come out of the horrors the film's narrative seems to foreshadow.

    The hallmarks of Haneke's body of work are all there –?elegiac tone, clinical editing, wincingly frank dialogue –?but in many ways The White Ribbon stands alone in the canon. It is a challenging work that will polarise audiences but represents a breathtaking new wave not just in the director's career but in European cinema.

    Some might say the film's inherent flaw is that there is no-one to root for, but this is perhaps its key strength. It's certainly plausible that this is Haneke's intention: he wants to position us as mute outsiders to a slowly creeping menace, unable to have a say in the invisible horrors that await us. The result is a deadening and thoroughly rewarding experience - a combination few filmmakers could hope to achieve.

  • Nurturing Fascism Somewhere in Black and White Germany by 9

    During the course of the year before WWI, a series of tragic and suspicious looking incidents take place in a small farming village somewhere in black and white Germany. The culprit or the culprits behind the crime wave will not be too easy to find.

    The doctor, the priest, the baron and the teacher who also narrates the film form the elite of the village. We get to know each one of them and a few other villagers along with children of this village, calm on the surface but deeply tormented by an undercurrent of brutality, envy, malice and apathy.

    The children's natural path to maturity is blocked by strict religious morality, cruelly enforced by the priest, thereby inhibiting their personal observation of the world around them. The priest feeds children with guilt and sexual repression instead of love and punishes even their most innocent mistakes. Certainly this environment will make it easy for them to not only accept but seek ruthless authority later in life.

    As might be expected, love in this town is restrained and uneasy, while incest and affairs are overlooked by villagers. The Baron employs half of the village in his farm, yet almost no one seems to be against feudalism, nor rise up against the accidents that happen in the workplace. Social justice is a stranger to town, yet villagers are entrenched in apathy.

    If adults do not face up the truth, however this truth might be against their convictions, rise up and take charge, then who will? And according to whose morality? Isn't fascism with racism, in short Nazism, misdirected popular anger and an easy response to deep injustices within a society ? Haneke observes mostly psychological, educational and religious roots of Nazism while leaving economic aspects mostly in the background.

    Visuals of the film are very solid. The symmetry in the shots and the tidiness of the houses, even of those belonging to the poor farmers hint at the discipline and rigor Germans are well known for. Acting is top notch by the whole cast, especially children's faces beam just like in Bergman films. Directing was superb.

    Haneke uses a village and a narrator similar in essence to Lars Von Trier's Dogville, still these two movies are clearly different.

    Das Weisse Band has also some similarities to Cache, but just one notch less satisfying than his masterpiece which had a slightly more intriguing and fulfilling story. This movie is made more accessible by Haneke with his choice of more obvious tips, where sometimes characters talk directly about the situation. But in a time and age when people are battling too many problems and drug themselves with TV and easy payoffs who could blame Haneke?

    Given the current global economic conditions and the fanaticism running high across all three major religions, this is a must-see movie for anyone caring about the future of our global village to avoid a Le Temps du Loup type of ending!

#PersonCrew
1Michael Hanekedirector
2Stefan Arndtproducer
3Veit Heiduschkaproducer
4Michael Katzproducer
5Margaret Ménégozproducer
6Andrea Occhipintiproducer