The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon

DIR/WRI: Michael Haneke • PRO: Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz, Margaret Ménégoz, Andrea Occhipinti • DOP: Christian Berger • ED: Monika Willi • DES: Christoph Kanter • CAST: Christian Friedel, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur, Ursina Lardi

There are films throughout the history of cinema which occupy the most upper of echelons and whose names are greeted by exuberant, unashamed nods and noises of approval. Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now and Pulp Fiction are three such films and while The White Ribbon may not command the same respect just yet, it has already accomplished the first step, which is to win the Cannes Film Festival’s highest commendation, the Palme d’Or. Michael Haneke’s film beat high-profile opposition such as Antichrist and Inglourious Basterds and, in my humble opinion, rightly so.

The story unfolds in a small rural village in Germany in 1917, prior to the outbreak of the First World War, where a series of suspicious mishaps throw an otherwise peaceful community into turmoil. The action is narrated by the schoolteacher (Christian Friedel) because the blame for the sudden increase in misfortune appears to be attributed to the school children whose Aryan features and blank faces are reminiscent of the delightful offspring of Village of the Damned. The cast is comprised of unknowns but is consistently strong across the board. The children are particularly noteworthy and each excels when separated from the group in the many indoor family scenes.

The White Ribbon offers no easy answers for the questions it raises. It is a parable that, due to Haneke’s writing credit and German ancestry, appears to be an insight into his own efforts to understand the role played by Germany in two world wars. The village of the film does not play an active role in the build-up to WWI but can be viewed as a microcosm of Germany at that time. While the children are afforded distinguishing names, the adults are credited by their positions in the village: The Baron, The Midwife, The Pastor, etc. It is a study of the mentality of German society before WWI as well as the psyche of the children who would later go to war in WWII. Haneke instils qualities in his characters that are enlightening with the benefit of retrospective. Characters are imbued with traits familiar to the long history of Nazis on-screen, but what elevates The White Ribbon above other similar films is the portrayal of the other side of the village. For each character that exudes malice or malevolence, there is a wholesome character that displays selflessness or generosity.

The White Ribbon’s potency is not confined to the story. As engaging as the events of the small village are, they are exceeded by the visual beauty of the film. The black and white imagery of the film adds to the 1917 setting but more importantly draws the audience in to the duality of the story. The White Ribbon is a riveting dissection of a community at war with itself within a country on the brink of a world war.

Peter White
(See biog here)

Rated 15a (see IFCO website for details)
The White Ribbon
is released 13th Nov 2009

The White Ribbon – Official Website