27 February 2010

Review: "The White Ribbon"

The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band) is a 2009 German film directed by Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke. Michael Haneke is probably most well known to North American audiences for the film Funny Games (2008), which is a remake of his original film from 1997. He also wrote and directed the film Caché (a critically successful film which I did not enjoy). The White Ribbon has become a critical success throughout the world. It premiered at Cannes in 2009 and won the coveted Palme d'Or, and has garnered a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and an Academy Award nomination. Haneke has revealed through numerous interviews that the film is about the origins of terrorism. The film is set in a small German town prior to World War I. The film, shot entirely in black and white, is reminiscent of older films with beautiful cinematography and a beautifully inspired soundtrack. I was under the impression, for some unknown reason, that the film was about the Nazi regime during World War II, though this may be due to the heavy theme of terrorism present in the film. The White Ribbon is a beautifully shot film, though unfortunately I had trouble connecting emotionally with the characters.

The White Ribbon is set in between the summers of 1913 and 1914 in Eichwald, a ficticious Protestant town in Germany. The film is narrated by Ernst Jacobi, who voices the older version of Christian Friedel, who stars as a young school teacher. There are many interwoven plots in the film, including the school teacher's blossoming relationship with Eva. The town is ruled by the pastor, doctor and baron. The pastor abuses his children physically and emotionally. He forces his children to wear white ribbons on their arms to remind them that they have strayed from innocence and purity. The doctor victimizes his housekeeper and her son, and sexually abuses his own daughter. The baron controls most of the land in the town and acts as a moral authority. Soon strange events begin to happen in the small town: the doctor's horse trips over a wire hung between two trees that leaves the doctor hospitalized for a long period, the baron's cabbages are destroyed, one of the baron's sons is found with hands and feet bound with severe lashes to his body, and a barn is belong to the baron is set on fire. The town does not know who to blame for the crimes, and only the schoolteacher seems concerned by the unruly behaviour of his pupils.

The White Ribbon unfolds very slowly and deliberately, sometimes frustratingly so. The film, at 144 minutes, is very long with a few unnecessary scenes. There are a great number of characters in the film and it is sometimes confusing to remember which child belongs to which character. I often had trouble reading the white fond of the subtitles because it was offset by the black and white of the film. T One of the most harrowing thoughts after viewing the film is the realization that these children grew up to become adults in the time before World War II.
he film is beautifully shot and directed, and although I had trouble with some of the actors, The White Ribbon is one of the must-see foreign films of the year, though I would rank it second behind Un Prophète.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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