The White Ribbon (Austria/Germany/France/Italy: 144 min.)

directed by: Michael Haneke
starring: Christian Friedel; Ernst Jadobi; Leonie Benesch; Ulrich Tukur; Ursina Lardi; Fion Mutert
Das weisse Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschicht

Bruce says: "Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Michael Haneke (THE PIANO TEACHER, CACHÉ, BENNY’S VIDEO, FUNNY GAMES, THE TIME OF THE WOLF) finally gets his well deserved recognition.  Not that his films are always satisfying.  I cannot think of anyone who is a fan of his entire catalog.  WHITE RIBBON is exquisitely filmed and beautifully acted.  In spite of its excessive plusses, there lingers a feeling that not everything about it rings true.   The story centers on mysterious deaths, vandalism and acts of brutality in a small village and the unwavering religious and moral overtones which choke the life out of those who survive.  Many a reviewer has concluded that such demonstrations of ” group think“ presage the rise of the German totalitarian state and the Holocaust.  That conclusion is rather simplistic.  Germany has a checkered history of persecution.  Take, for example, witchcraft persecutions.  Approximately half of all those executed in Europe during the 16th and 17th Centuries (80% of whom were women) were done so by German hands.  Granted, the witch hunts ended long before the months leading up to World War I during which THE WHITE RIBBON takes place, but rigidity of thought had definitely played a longstanding role in the German culture up to that point.

"Narrated by the village schoolteacher (Christian Friedel) with the perspective of hindsight, the film follows a straight narrative path, documenting the horrific events as they take place.  There are many characters in the film and many demands are placed on the viewer to keep them and the details of their actions straight.  The principal landowner is the Baron (Ulrich Tukur).  His wife (Ursina Lardi) is ill-suited for country life.  Eva (Leonie Benesch,), the nanny for his young son, is being courted by the schoolteacher.   Everyone is intent on staying in the Baron’s good graces. 

"As the film begins the village doctor’s horse is tripped by a wire that has been purposefully stretched across the path.  The doctor is seriously wounded.  Next, a peasant woman falls to her death when she steps on rotting boards in a loft.  The disabled child of the doctor’s midwife and housekeeper (Susanne Lothar), who is also his longstanding mistress, is abducted and beaten.  The Baron’s barn is set on fire.  Subplots abound and several other characters – particularly some of the children and many of the peasants  -  have leading roles in the story as well.

"The pastor (Burghart Klaußner) is austere, formal and lacking in emotion.  He brutally punishes his own children to emphasize the life lessons that he imposes on the community.  They must wear white ribbons until they are free of sin.   As the schoolteacher examines the facts at hand, signs point to Klara (Maria-Victoria Dragus), the pastor’s eldest child, as the agent provocateur for the disturbing events.  Just as we are sure the film is a whodunit, Haneke coerces his viewers to step back and look at the larger picture, abandoning the details which appeared ever so important.  Although one almost feels tricked by this technique, one cannot help but being captivated by the myriad of rules governing this society:  the entitlement of the upper classes, the dogma of religion, the privileges of patriarchy, and the prerogatives of the elders.  4.5 cats  

"(THE WHITE RIBBON screened at the 2009 New York Film Festival.)"

Diane says: "Right off, this gave me the unsettled feeling of TIME OF THE WOLF. Haneke is able to set up so much tension, even without a driving plot. The usual cues as to who's the good guy and who's the bad guy, who's morally right, who's evil, are absent, or continuously subverted. And then, specific culpability turns out not even to be a question the director is interested in. Haneke's themes are not novel or deeply
plumbed, but they are true, and he crafts them beautifully. (Re: visual artistry, the film was shot in color and then translated to a gorgeous black & white.)

***SPOILER ALERT*** (not very much so, tho)

For those who see it, here's my take on what's ultimately meaningful: the narrator, the character we empathize with, finishes by tossing in a few lines about going off to war--the Great War, which had one of the highest number of deaths in history--and then sums up his ordinary life after the war. That immense evil, too, is disregarded. 4 cats."