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The White Ribbon

2009 dramatic film directed by Austrian film maker Michael Haneke

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Life in a small German village, before the first World War - dark and unsettling, deeply intelligent

  • Apr 23, 2010
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 expects his peers and students to treat one another with basic decency. Later it is because he is falling in love. Nevertheless, the story he tells, from a vantage point of age, and likely in the aftermath of the horrors of another even darker war, is a harrowing one.

It all starts when the local doctor is thrown from his horse, by a hidden wire set deliberately to harm him. There is, later, a fatal accident, and subsequent acts of apparently unmotivated cruelty, and at the same time motivations for such crimes begin to mount. As villagers begin to suspect one another, we as the audience cannot help but suspect nearly every one of some kind of guilt, if not direct complicity with the crimes; and our attention is drawn increasingly to an outwardly respectful and pretty young woman, daughter of the local pastor and on the brink of communion, who seems to be something of a ringleader to the children.

Haneke is too clever (and perhaps too perverse) to resolve easily the many tensions that make watching this an unsettling experience, something akin to intellectual horror. It should not be a spoiler for anyone who's seen any of Haneke's films that ambiguities and uncertainties remain at the end. At the same time, there are enough moments of light and sympathy, and occasional but rare comic relief, especially in the blossoming romance between the narrator and the nanny to the local baron, that the film manages to sustain intrigue and enjoyment, such that the difficulty of the subject doesn't overwhelm the experience. Like most of Haneke's films, The White Ribbon manages to provoke and intrigue while provoking questions without easy answers. This film is perhaps closest in spirit and feel to some of Ingmar Bergman's early emotional dramas, exploring religion and faith in the context of interpersonal conflict, such as his Through a Glass Darkly Trilogy. The cinematography is masterful, in gorgeous black and white. The alternation of delicacy and austerity in the imagery alone makes this a delight to watch. Highly recommended for lovers of challenging and inventive cinema.

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October 09, 2010
It's interesting that you were also reminded of Bergman's films, because as I was watching this I noticed that besides the themes Haneke is dealing with here, the cinematography was reminiscent to many of Bergman's films in the '50s and '60s.
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 …
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 Klau├čner) is burned to the ground. The …
About the reviewer
Nathan Andersen ()
Ranked #6
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida.      I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (, and am co-director of … 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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