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The White Ribbon

2009 dramatic film directed by Austrian film maker Michael Haneke

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Ignorance poses as Innocence: The White Ribbon

  • Jul 2, 2010
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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 who may be the mother of 'his child' - a mentally challenged boy cared for the mother/mistress who also cares for his naive other children by his deceased wife. A young boy, the son of the town Baron, is found in the woods, bound and beaten, and the town fails to produce information as to the brutality. A woman falls through a dangerous flooring and dies, her husband commits suicide, the mentally challenged boy is severely tortured, the Baron's cabbage farm is destroyed, the children of the large family of the town pastor are punished for varying reasons (each offending child must wear a 'white ribbon of innocence' to remind themselves to sin no more - the young boy's sin is physical self satisfaction), a building on the Baron's estate is burned, etc. Oddly since there are no identified culprits, the town focuses on the children as the possible perpetrators of the violence - since they are ignorant until they receive Confirmation in the church - a ritual supposed to bring the enlightenment of adulthood to those confirmed!

There are many stories in this magnificent film by the gifted Michael Haneke and none of them is fully resolved by the end of the film. It is the tenor of the city that seems to breed ill winds that in turn suggests that the town's inhabitants - curious and possibly dangerous children and adults with both overt and subliminal evil in their characters - are setting the scene for a country that could produce the evil demonstrated by the events of July 1917 which opened World War II. Haneke captures all of this terror and submerged hate and fear and abuse and character dysfunction in startling black and white photography. The townspeople are all fairly similar in appearance, made more so by the black and white imagery, and the only person in the town that has some semblance of humanity is the young schoolteacher (even in his discovery of courtship) that seems to make the statement that it is only through education that change can occur. Haneke has the courage and sensitivity to leave the audience guessing about the etiologies of all the evils we have witnessed and simply ends his film in slow fadeout as WW I ensues. It is a heart-stopping film, brilliantly directed and acted and photographed and accompanied by a musical score that emphasizes choral hymns sung by children. This is magnificent filmmaking! In German with English subtitles. Grady Harp, July 10

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More The White Ribbon reviews
review by . September 23, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
What Does The White Ribbon Truly Stand For?
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 …
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 . 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 Klau├čner) is burned to the ground. The …
About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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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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"Village of the Damned"
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