The White Ribbon [Blu-ray]
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On the eve of World War I, strange accidents in a small Protestant village in Northern Germany involve the children and teenagers of a choir run by the schoolteacher and their families. The abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of this mystery as these events gradually take on the character of a punishment ritual.
Like 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 and cruel and often involve the children of the village--not merely as victims (although child abuse seems to be a far-from-isolated event) but also as perpetrators. At least that's the way it appears. Nothing is completely spelled out in Haneke's scheme, which hints and insinuates and thoroughly gets under the viewer's skin over the course of 144 edgy minutes. We might notice the children are of an age that will make them mature participants in the horror of Germany in the 1930s and '40s, but even this is left as an unemphasized point. Since Haneke is an expert at denying explicit conclusions for his projects (see also Caché and Funny Games for more on the subject), we shouldn't be surprised that he withholds the answers to the questions he poses, or that the film is even more powerful because of this withholding. Adding to the effect is Christian Berger's Oscar-nominated black-and-white cinematography, which has a ghostly quality appropriate to the topic. In the end, all the strange happenings of the village are absorbed into the town's rhythm of life--which might be the most disturbing conclusion of all. --Robert Horton --This text refers to the DVD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Narrated by the schoolteacher (as an older man recalling the story as in a fable) the film begins with an innocent look at the village people and its structure, notably the feared Baron who provides most of the work for the villagers, the omnipotent town doctor and the self-righteous town's pastor. All three come to represent a respected but feared presence from all, especially the children. A series of cruel and horrifically mean-spirited offenses occur over the year, beginning with the doctor and his horse as they catch a hidden wire while riding and are thrown to the ground. Speculation rises as the villagers try to unearth the culprit. More unthinkable and strange happenings occur, some involving children, sending the village into a sinister atmosphere of distrust and accusation. The pastor tries to remedy his children's behavior by forcing them to wear white ribbons on their arms - a false sign of purity and innocence. At the same time, the pastor is relentless in caning his children behind closed doors. That's one of the marvels of the film, in that, other than the initial horse tragedy, none of the atrocities are directly shown on screen. Both adults and children fall prey to some of these cruel and horrific events. Allegedly, adults towards children and children towards adults.
The cinematography is remarkable as high contrast gives the film a ghostly, foreboding feel and look.Read more ›
Here are some critical observations about this award-winning film that might help you decide whether or not it is worth watching:
1) It is based on a story about a pre-WW I German village coming to grips with some very troubling intergenerational issues centered on authority as seen in the roles of parent, husbands, teacher, pastor, and overlord. In this paternalistic society, women and children count only as chattels or pawns to be moved around at the whim of overbearing, domineering males;
2) The film captures the everyday life in this small Lutheran hamlet where the hierarchy of authority starts at the top with the baron and his manor and goes all the way down to the bottom to the lowliest of children, the 'retarded' son of the midwife who co-habits with the local doctor. On the surface, the viewer is treated to a thin veneer of respect and civility between the various members of this conservative, hidebound community;
3) Any attempts at caring for one another or expressing love are quickly suppressed by a sense of duty and fear of stepping outside the bounds of authority;
4) What emerges in the story is an undercurrent of rebellion that gnaws away at the fabric of this society.Read more ›
Terrible things are happening in this village of obedient children and strict parents. The doctor is returning from his daily horseback ride when his horse trips and falls over a wire strung between trees. Someone has done this deliberately. But who? A mentally challenged child is found tied upside down on a tree, badly beaten. Another child is beaten in the same way.
The young man who is the school teacher begins to suspect the children. Their revenge smacks of punishment. He confronts two of the children in their home and is getting close to forming a suspicion in his mind. However, the respectable father intervenes and throws him out of his house. That ends any investigation.
The voice-over is the aged voice of the school teacher, now an old man looking back on these sinister events. What happened, he says, must have something to do with what followed in German history.
I found the film remarkable in many ways: beautifully filmed, well acted (how did they find an actor to play the mentally challenged child?) and thought provoking. What did German child rearing have to do with the events which followed, I had to wonder.
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Most recent customer reviews
Dark, somber story. Icy cold atmosphere and certainly not a spirited film, it is nevertheless a very good film. I would rewatch it for the cinematography alone.Published on March 3 2014 by nobody
"White Ribbon is a movie of precision"if you can't read between the lines you will absolutely
not get what you're seeing,so to take your time on a long movie like this trust... Read more
I don't have to say much here, just that Haneke returns with a relentlessly upsetting but insightful film about what might have led to Fascism in the decades leading up to WWII. Read morePublished on Aug. 12 2011 by Dan
One of the best films I have seen in a long time!
A sharp black and white film that takes the viewer back to the days before WW1, in a small village in Northern Germany, a... Read more
Holy moly, the creepiest movie since The Ring. Shot in black in white only adds to the barren and isolated feel to the northern German village where all sorts of horrible... Read morePublished on March 10 2011 by Brian Maitland