The White Ribbon

white-ribbon

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The fastest and easiest way to describe “The White Ribbon” is to call it a German version of “The Children of The Corn”. The long description goes like this: In 1913 a small German town is victimized by anonymous acts of violence. The town is owned by The Baron (Ulrich Tukur) who employs the majority of the town’s villagers. The town appears normal, but it’s surprising how drastically the characters unravel once the violence starts.

The first incident happens very quickly, the town doctor (Rainer Bock) is out riding his horse, and is thrown when the horse falls over a tripwire that someone has placed on the riding path. The doctor breaks his collar bone and is transported to another town for medical attention. This event triggers a reign of terror that will continue to grip this small town until the onset of World War I.

The film hinges on the town’s children, and how they react to their parents. It is suggested by some town folk, that the children are responsible for the crimes. The audience is unable to make that decision — the kids give nothing away. Because the children are such a vital piece of the plot, if their acting was anything less than stellar, this film would have fallen apart. I was interested to learn that director Michael Haneke interviewed more than 7000 children during the six month long casting period.

Yes, The White Ribbon is an anti-feel-good movie. Films that tread into the dark and unsettling areas of the human psyche are not easy to watch. I usually avoid depressing movies like this at all costs, but this one kept my interest. This speaks to the craft of the writer/director Michael Haneke. No matter how slow the story moved, no matter how bleak the outlook, I kept watching the film with a sense that something important was being said. Just what is being said, though, is open to interpretation.

Michael Haneke is known for making films that don’t answer the questions they raise, and this one is no different. The popular line of thought is that The White Ribbon concerns the origins of fascism in Germany, however, Haneke goes a step further and says it’s more about “The origin of every type of terrorism.” I, on the other hand, felt whisked away in a time-machine to an era where a father rules the household with an iron fist. The questions it arose in me pertained to patriarchal societies and how they affect culture. This is a film that, as most should, means something different to each member of the audience.

Directed by Michael Haneke

tags: michael haneke, the white ribbon

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