Film Review : The White Ribbon (2009)

IMDB Score – 7.7
Rotten Tomato Score – 85%

Academy Award Nominations
Best Cinematography
Best Foreign Language Film

Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival

Directed By – Michael Haneke
Starring – Christian Friedel, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur, Ursina Lardi, and Burghart Klaußner

Strange events happen in a small village in the north of Germany during the years just before World War I, which seem to be ritual punishment. The abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of this mystery.

If I were to name five of my favorite directors living today, Michael Haneke would not only be on that list but would be near the top. Cache is one of my favorite films of all time and I enjoyed his recent film Amour. He’s notorious for being extremely bleak and brutal in his portrayals of life but in that creates some of the most beautiful films modern cinema has ever seen. He tackled sexuality in The Piano Teacher, Alzheimer’s disease in Amour, and even torture in both versions of Funny Games. He is literally a director that makes people both fascinated and dreadful to enter a theater for two hours. This is why I love him. I love being moved and poked and prodded for a response whether good or bad. I love that he almost always leaves his viewers with more questions than answers. Lastly, I often fall in love with his camerawork. His work requires repeat viewings and while I have only sat through The White Ribbon once, I’m sure I’ll be seeing it again.

Filmed in black and white as if to automatically distance the viewer from any sort of emotional attachment to these characters. The rosy and lush countryside of Germany is now transformed into a bleak landscape reminiscent of Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse. This is ultimately a much easier view than Tarr’s work but that is saying something all together. This is not an easy watch. Events start to unfold from the get go as the town doctor is thrown from his horse due to wire being strung across two trees. The mystery of the event only begins a series of strange occurrences that take place over the rest of the film.

Haneke is famous for his static shots where he lets the viewer play voyeur over the scene. While his technique is not used as much as his previous films we are still treated to long takes of this small German village operating as its inhabitants go about their daily lives. You really get a sense of how certain events can spread like the plague to other villagers when you live in such a small town. The children, who are really the main focus of the theme lash out and get the full force of their parents as we are treated to a view of a generation which will soon grow up to be some of the most evil people in history, the Nazis. These kids are ages five through fourteen in 1913. Do the math.

The White Ribbon ended up being a character study of how foul people can be and how witnesses of such events can keep their mouths closed for so long. The symbolism of Nazi Germany is a subtle, under the skin type affair that ties this film in a horrible bow. I highly recommend this film to people who can stomach slow burns and realistic yet disturbing events.

4.5/5

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