Strikingly shot in black and white feature- The White Ribbon, tenders a captivating experience of dark secrets of a family in North Germany just before WWI. This absorbing film leaves audience a rare, bitter trace of hauntingly disturbing contemplations, creating an abyss of anxiety that’s unsettling and unforgettable. The courage to imagine otherwise and touching a unique trait of human behavior, consistently unnerved, into discovering each air of unease of discontentment, scripts an alteration of mastery and courage of Michael Haneke, making him the most thinking director of our times.
Made before his acclaimed Oscar winning Amour and after The Piano Teacher and Cache, Michael Haneke has created a film whose outstanding technical finesse and closure seems to me in contrast to its status as an “open” version, truly a work which resists clear interpretation. Furthermore, breaking free sort of decree, consenting viewer’s psyche, on their very own. Haneke’s use of locked down shots with characters entering the scene at the last possible moment and exiting nearly as quickly, shooting heavily condensed time sequences, and shots with a consistent camera focus on the opening and shutting of doors devising hypnotic pacing and signifying one layer to another. This is a remarkable style and positions in essence become its own genre.
Though seen his classic Amour, I believe The White Ribbon would now recognise to distinguish much likes of Fellini, in the contemporary perspective and the complex interactions among energy and brilliant mechanics of human bodily behaviour that excite the inimitable techniques of the director Michael Haneke. The movie returned to Germany after premiered at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival in May 2009 where it won the Palme d’Or, followed by positive reviews and several other major awards, including the 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film also received two nominations at the 82nd Academy Awards in 2009: Best Foreign Language Film representing Germany and Best Cinematography for Christian Berger.
Titled in German, “Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte” is a children’s story that gradually unfolds across the screen as the film begins. Centered and concerted on children who emulating the behaviour of the adult world, perpetrate on others the painful physical and psychological oppression they have experienced. The performances of the children in the film are exceptional.
The window of the story takes us to July of 1913, of the unknown protestant village of Eichwald, Germany. An outwardly calm village appears orderly and traditional, but actually dysfunctional and repressive society, plagued with anonymous, punitive acts of malice and hatred. The peace is shattered when the local doctor (Rainer Bock) in his horse hits a near invisible trip wire, thrown and seriously injured.
While anxious locals wonder about the crime, other disturbing events occur. The wife of a tenant farmer falls to her death in the barn owned by the local baron (Ulrich Tukur). The baron’s son is kidnapped, trussed up and beaten. A boy with Down’s syndrome is similarly assaulted, found tied to a tree and almost blinded. Besides to these unexplained crimes, there are, mysteriously, others with offenders whose guilt is plain, such as the destruction of crops by a cynical farm workers.
The baron is guarded about turning over the blame. At the heart of everything is an unyielding pastor (Burghart Klaussner), his sense of prejudice confides his take on masturbation as a malevolent act and muddles adolescent boys. He forces his own children to wear punitive white ribbons to symbolize the purity they have forsaken. On the other-side, the doctor recovers from his injury returns back home. The director reveals why the man might have been targeted of the accident. His relationships with both his 14-year-old daughter Anna (Roxane Duran) and his mistress (Susanne Lothar) are far from real and heave his sexual abusive out on them.
This finding begins to suspect a gang of local kids. Their appearance are polite and underhanded, they stubbornly tad the sanctimonious innocence to justify themselves, especially Klara (Maria-Victoria Dragus) the pastor’s daughter, who contrasts sharply is seen quite evident and hitherto the girl can’t be responsible for all the incidents.
In the mid-year of 1914, the fear seeps through the community as the baron receives ominous news from his visitor about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which is the beginning of World War I. The village arrays an immense conflict, poised as the children of Eichwald are of an age to help chart their nation’s course. Haneke throws up the large questions about Germany’s 20th-century wars are merely a continuation of this sickness on a bigger scale, though the link can never be clearly, conclusive. His villagers are devastated by an enemy within, even though the Baron employs a number of Polish estate workers, there is no quasi-Jewish outsider upon whom the community focuses its fear.
The film is handled in absolute sensitivity. The role of Pastor, the Baron and the Doctor is so pivotal to the story. The Pastor (father of nine children in the movie), whose concerns for justice and morality in a strict Lutheran-like Protestant mirrors his clear influence over the villagers, defining the social mores explored throughout the movie reminding of guilt, wrongdoing, fear, denial, disgrace, and so much so the chock-fullness of hatred, malice, disgust and cruelty reveals his errant children flummoxed in their upbringing of preconception, bias and inhibitions.
The character of Baron is also austere and hypocritical of his virtuousness. His vulnerability is witnessed after he listens to the cruel killing of his parakeet by Klara. The character of Doctor, who is sexually abusive and extremely manipulative of profuse intimate relationship with his mid-wife lacks empathy and his tendency to be inter-personally exploitative are very riveting.
The film is narrated in voice-over by the local schoolteacher (Christian Friedel), now an old, who unequivocally declares after decades later, that these painful events clarify the state of Germany and it’s imply on its glorification of the expansionist ideologies and hysteria that drove them forward. The contextual intention as it is could perhaps simplify some things that happened in Germany.
Inside this enigma, Haneke constructs scenes that are instant classics. The schoolteacher is conducting a delicate courtship of a local young woman and despite Haneke’s reputation for darkness, the situation threads quite gentle, touching and humorous, hard though believe- Anna’s little brother has the existence of death explained to him, and the result is funny and shocking at once, and the same goes for the sub-plot that follows from the pastor’s little son asking if he can keep a caged bird, like the one his father has, and the consequence is both unsettling and poignant. I am sure audience would recognise number of such moving scenes.
In the end, there is no solution to the mystery. The white ribbon does not appeal at any clarity. It could be that part of the history and human intervention remain enigmatic, terminal, or it could be that the small little consequences such as these would have ultimately resulted in the rise and fall of Nazi generation, who grew up with unexpired resentment and the frustration of not getting a solution and the Michael Haneke reminds us the sinister riddle can be anywhere around and more fierce of history repeating itself……. The white arm around could be any of our imagination and each time I watch this movie is more severe, as I remain
- Written & Directed by Michael Haneke
- Produced by Stefan Arndt; Veit Heiduschka; Andrea Occhipinti; Michael Katz & Margaret Ménégoz
- Cast: Christian Friedel; Ulrich Tukur & Josef Bierbichler
- Narrated by Ernst Jacobi
- Cinematography: Christian Berger
- Edited by Monika Willi
- Production Company: Wega Film & X Filme
- Distributed by Filmladen (Austria) & X Verleih AG (Germany)
- Release dates: 21 May 2009 (Cannes)
- Run time of 144 minutes
- Language: German