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The White Ribbon

2009 dramatic film directed by Austrian film maker Michael Haneke

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What Does The White Ribbon Truly Stand For?

  • Sep 23, 2010

I’ve always enjoyed foreign films in the manner with which it can convey the bleakest themes through the suggestion of the emotions that can be awakened through its screenplay. Shot in its entirety in black and white with a near minimalist style of perspective-focused cinematography, filmmaker Michael Haneke is quite calculating when it comes to delivering art house shock value. Granted his films are usually for the esoteric few, as he unveils his story through the narration of a school teacher that tells of a disturbing tale of deception, mistrust and oppression, suspicion and accusations that faces a small German village before World War One.

The film won “Best Foreign Film” in the 2009 Golden Globes and was nominated for the same category in the Academy awards. It was also a recipient of the Palme d’Or award at Cannes.

                    A scene from "The White Ribbon."

                   Ursina Lardi as The Baroness in "The White Ribbon."

“The White Ribbon” begins when the village doctor falls because of a trip wire that felled his horse that leads up to his stay in a hospital in town. This incident seemingly triggers the beginning of sadistic events that stuns this small village as a school teacher (Christian Friedel) recalls the events that led to the collapse of this estate because of the men who ruled the place through medicine, religion, intimidation and education that provokes a feeling of discontent and abuse that falls through every household in the area. There is something terribly wrong in this village as the abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of the strange occurrences, as these events slowly become an insane ritual while the threat of war looms in the horizon.

                A scene from "The White Ribbon."

The film is broken down into small stories of different households and how these people set up the village mood and temperament. The emotionally inspired, yet detached narration by the schoolteacher was quite effective in bringing forth a slow yet calculated sensation of the oppressed, as he details the horrific events that happened in that village before WWI. The film sidesteps the usual conventions of graphic shock value and leaves a lot to the viewer’s imagination; the screenplay requires a lot of reading between the lines, so if you are not used to this type of filmmaking, you had better stay away from this film. There is no soundtrack used by the direction and yet the emotion is felt through its camerawork, close ups and the school teacher’s narration.

                   Kristina Kneppek as Else, Stephanie Amarell as Sophie, Bianca Mey as Paula and Mika Ahrens as Willi in "The White Ribbon."

                  Rainer Bock as the Doctor in "The White Ribbon."

                 Fion Mutert as Sigmund, Enno Trebs as Georg and Theo Trebs as Ferdinand in "The White Ribbon."

“The White Ribbon” is a carefully stitched together as it introduces its areas of suppression, unspoken discontent, disease and violence as it slowly immerses you into its screenplay. The characters in the film are the ones that regulate the film’s pace so the first half has a very sleepy feel. The motivations behind the attack on the village doctor isn’t fully revealed as is his implied perverse affairs, but it is enough to keep the viewer on the edge of his seat. The Baron represents the unspoken lordship that is about the estate, as he is surrounded by folks who are either dependent or with his undeclared rule.

The film’s themes of tradition and religion as things that can contort or disrupt one’s feelings, thinking and maybe even warp one’s conscious mind into a build up that can have seriously dire consequences when left to explode. The negative sides of religion, tradition and practices are the film’s most potent tool, as we become reminded that single-minded thinking can harm as well as nurture. It is all in the manner it is wielded really, but suppression is never key to development and progress. The film’s harsh images of discipline and violation are simply disturbing despite the fact that most of its reality are hinted at, as it builds slowly to the film’s bleaker and depressing second half.

                        Burghart Klaussner as The Pastor in "The White Ribbon."

                       Leonie Benesch as Eva in "The White Ribbon."

But despite the film’s depressing themes and mood, it does remember to inject a little light in its proceedings. The director’s nihilistic approach is balanced by the light-hearted romance between a virginal nanny named Eva and the schoolteacher. Their relationship offers an idea that amidst this situation, two lovers can still find each other and that love can bloom as long as it is motivated by the right emotions and motivations. The two are traditional, and they represent the brighter side of tradition and religious beliefs as they treat each other with respect and honor; but there is a question of its motivations, as it is still clearly a sign of these times.

“The White Ribbon” is a mystery surrounded by another mystery. Why did all these things happen and who is truly responsible? The film has an ambiance as seen through the eyes of a man who was there but like most of the others, knew very little. The film is horrific and yet it isn’t a horror film, it is a drama and yet it feels rather detached; I believe in Haneke’s eyes, this is a way to approach the awful reality of this repressed society since its questions and answers can be debated in a number of different ways. Just who are and what is truly to blame?

Highly Recommended! [4 Out of 5 Stars]
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What Does The White Ribbon Truly Stand For?

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September 26, 2010
Wow, this movie looks eerily lovely. I love foreign old school films. Will have to check it out!
September 23, 2010
I still need to see this. Have you seen any of Haneke's other films?
September 24, 2010
I saw "Funny Games" original and its remake (I think he also did the remake) which I thought was alright. I think I saw that one about contaminated water and livestock in a post-apocalyptic future. I can't remember the title.

If you do see this, make sure you're in the right mood;otherwise it is a slow-moving affair in the 1st half and it is easy to get detached from it.
September 24, 2010
Fine by me. I like slow-moving films, so long as they're character-driven.
September 23, 2010
Palme d'Or, man this must be good WP. I remember hearing about this but never made the time for it, sounds like I need 2.
September 23, 2010
This was good though admittedly, you have to be in a certain mood when you watch it; you'll have to read a lot between the lines. Its horrific themes come from suggestive scenes and a display of subtle abuse.
More The White Ribbon reviews
review by . April 23, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Michael Haneke's latest may well be his greatest. It's a masterful depiction of the unraveling of a village, in the years leading up to the first World War. It's a dark film, but I don't think it's bleak. It is narrated by a hopeful young teacher, whose own sights are raised above the pettiness and insensitivity and unspoken class rivalries that lead the villagers to be mutually suspicious. At first it is his lofty ideals, his generous spirit and the fact that while he is not naive he nevertheless …
Quick Tip by . October 06, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
A guilty admission...
A gripping and suspenseful drama courtesy of Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke. The film takes place in a rather dysfunctional small community where all the community members hold dark secrets. Amidst a litany of sins, everything from incestuous abuse to severe punishment of children, a series of strange "incidents" occur that change the face of the town and reveal its true nature. The film is a very bleak character-driven mystery that excels at getting the viewer engaged, but perhaps …
review by . July 02, 2010
In a small village in Northern Germany in 1916 a series of bizarre and horrid things happen. There is no explanation for these events, only mute rumors and musings in a town confined by strict Protestant rules of judgment and behavior. The town Doctor on horseback is tripped by a trap wire hidden on a path, is injured, and must leave town for a hospital treatment for a while: upon return we learn that the town doctor is anything but kind in his verbal and physical abuse of his office manager/mistress …
review by . January 25, 2010
Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" could be considered a mystery in that things happen for no apparent reason. The Doctor (Rainer Bock) breaks his arm after falling off his horse, which tripped over a wire strung between two trees. Not long after, someone abducts the eldest son of the Baron (Ulrich Tukur); he isn't found until the next morning, at which point it's discovered that he had been bound and beaten with a cane. A barn owned by the Pastor (Burghart Klaußner) is burned to the ground. The …
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About this movie


Controversy-courting director Michael Haneke (CACHE) earned the Palm d'Or at Cannes in 2009 for this arresting drama set just before World War I. In a small German village, a number of unexplained accidents beset the schoolchildren and their parents. Though they at first appear coincidental, it begins to seem that they are not, in fact, accidents at all.
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Director: Michael Haneke
Genre: Foreign
Release Date: 2009
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (April 27, 2010)
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