The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band)

Articulating why I love Michael Haneke films so much is difficult. I’m not sure why I saw Funny Games three times. Or why The Piano Teacher got a five star rating from me on Netflix. There’s no comfort or solace found in his work. I didn’t walk away from Cache feeling uplifted. I suppose it’s the fact that among all the directors working today, his movies are, for me, the most thought-provoking. I leave the theatre with more questions than answers. Sometimes it’s totally aggravating, like in Time of the Wolf, and sometimes it’s part of the fun, like in The Seventh Continent. With all this in mind, I wasn’t quite sure how to prepare myself for The White Ribbon. Clearly, the folks at Cannes loved it (I hold the Palm d’Or in higher regard than the Oscars these days). The trailer gives away nothing. And I wouldn’t have wanted to go into the film in any other way.

The film is narrated by a man in old age, who is the school teacher in the story. He admits upfront that the stories he’s about to unfold may be embellished since he didn’t witness them all himself, and facts could be heresay. He tells of the events in a fictional village in Germany in the years of 1913, and 1914. A string of strange and horrible events occurs, and there isn’t even a hint of who’s behind them. Enough time is given between each incident that the village people almost forget. Children are kidnapped and beaten, only to be found hours later tied up somewhere, a thin wire is stretched between two trees to trip galloping horses.

Among these characters that Haneke creates (he also penned the screenplay), there are some seriously scary people.  There’s the scandalous doctor that treats the woman that loves him (and her retarded child) worse than any farm animal, and molests his daughter.  There’s the priest that whips his children and tells his fourteen year-old-son that if he doesn’t stop masturbating, he well go insane, and pustules will consume his body until he dies (the priest swears he witnessed this himself once).  The town steward beats his son to a bloody pulp because the boy didn’t play well with others.  The list goes on.  Don’t let these descriptions give you a false impression of the film.  Like all of Haneke’s work, most of the objectionable subject matter take place off screen (many times in that same Brechtian-style that Godard embraced), behind closed doors, or is alluded to in conversation.  The children here are either victims of a frighteningly violent village, or the source of all the troubles.  Their dulled smiles, perfect manners, and strict obedience comes off extremely chilling.  In 30 years, these young folks will be the leaders in Germany…  This seems too intentional to be a coincidence.

Saying to much would be doing any that are considering watching The White Ribbon a disservice.  Haneke has achieved a masterpiece with this film.  Shot in staggeringly beautiful black and white tones, every single frame could be in a coffee table photography book.  Surely this is thanks to cinematographer Christian Berger, who’s worked with Haneke on almost all of his projects.  Besides the pure visual aspect of the film, there’s the dialogue.  It’s precision is astonishing, almost artfully composed.  Haneke has never been concerned with using false attempts to speed up plot, or build suspense.  His talent comes from letting the story unfold at its own pace, until you’re sucked in, and it’s too late (the frog in boiling water comes to mind here), and you’re enveloped in this world of dread.

★★★★

Comments
8 Responses to “The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band)”
  1. Robert says:

    I totally agree. The White Ribbon was absolutely masterful and one of my favorite films from last year.

    I think one of the most impressive things about it is Haneke’s ability to bring this tone of dread and suspense without using a single note of a score, instead just using natural sounds…that scene where Karli was screaming in his bedroom was just utterly disturbing.

  2. Aiden R. says:

    Damn, 4 stars. I really need to see this. I’m officially on a mission to do so. Good review, man.
    .-= Aiden R.´s last blog ..And the Oscar prediction for best Actress ‘09 goes to… =-.

  3. Branden says:

    I saw this film last night. I had the exact opposite reaction. I was bored to tears with this tear. You have narrator saying that the stuff in the movie might have happened that triggered WWI.

    What’s the big hullabaloo?
    .-= Branden´s last blog ..Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2009 =-.

  4. blake says:

    @ Branden – Whoa, I must have totally missed that. I recall them talking about the Archduke’s assassination, but I didn’t catch how the movie’s events sparked it all.
    .-= blake´s last blog ..The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band) =-.

  5. Branden says:

    I didn’t know about that either until I read some write-ups about the movie. The explanation sounds far fetched to me.
    .-= Branden´s last blog ..Alice in Wonderland (1903) =-.

  6. Castor says:

    This is the 3rd review I see with a perfect score!! I will check this out on Sunday and let you know what I think :)
    .-= Castor´s last blog ..1001 Movies: Se7en (1995) =-.

  7. Anna says:

    any friend of haneke is a friend of mine ;)

  8. Allyn says:

    Well, I haven’t seen it but will be looking forward to find this film. I just hope that it will also suit my taste since I can’t be so sure if the director was really good. I am not familiar with him bit then on the process of knowing him and his masterpiece. I usually like novel based film so I must not take the whole thing on a first screen.
    Allyn´s last blog post ..what are pustules

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