Strange events happen in a small village in the north of Germany during the years just before World War I, which seem to be ritual punishment. The abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of this mystery.
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Despite being well made, hardly worth well .. your time.
Trapped between a who done it and an existentialist theme piece with a non ending, trapped is how you'll feel in the end. As a who done it, it's not very satisfying and the movie takes you to the end with no definite answer... upon careful re-hash, all fingers point to only one suspect connected by plot and theme to all the dastardly deeds. Who cares? More of an unsatisfying experience as not-a-plot film filled with existential themes and an existential structure... you'll opt for the void instead of this flick. Rent "THE MAGUS" instead.
At The Movies
The White Ribbon (PG) * * * * *
By ROBERT WALDMAN
Keep them guessing. That’s the hallmark of a good suspense tale or a beginning relationship. And those folks at Cannes sure know how to pick a winner. Fresh off a smashing send-off from the world’s most famous film festival (sorry, Toronto) The White Ribbon finally reaches our shores. And what a treat it is. Sony Pictures Classics and Mongrel Media have outdone themselves by releasing this soon to be foreign classic, fit for all to behold at Tinseltown (on Pender, free parking).
Back in time we go to the years immediately prior to World War I. Somewhere in a quaint German village ominous things begin to occur. To appreciate the gravity of the situation you have to analyze the inhabitants of this rather quaint enclave. Power in this farming community rests with a tough as nails Baron and his equally dragon-lady wife. Ulrich Tukur and Ursina Lardi personify control run amuck as the town folk are literally on pins and needles over their every gesture. Alas, peace and tranquility do not remain for long in this slow moving world.
Right at the start of the movie comes an accident. From that point onward a sinister force seems to be operating in this rather idyllic, picturesque community where cows roam free, fields grow in abundance, and bad things begin to multiply. Who, or what is responsible for the ever increasing disasters provide lots of gist for the rumour mill and gossip runs wild. Many locals, if not them all, are beholden to the generosity (?) of the Baron and Baronin and it’s somewhat of a mugs game to guess if any of the members of this community are in fact responsible for the wicked evil that descends upon them all.
Watch the hidden agendas unravel, like an ancient game of CLUE, as instances of trauma and suspicion plague the town. Apart from this paranoia there are a host of citizens coming to terms with their own personal problems, all somehow interconnected to the tragic events on this village’s doorstep.
No one is above suspicion here as old customs die hard. Candidates for possible repudiation for the crimes include stray women, misunderstood children and poor farmers with grudges against the moneyed elites. Director Michael Haneke further inflames the incendiary conditions by injecting elements of religion, love and lust into the fray as emotions reach the boiling point.
Shot in black and white gives The White Ribbon an eerie feeling that perfectly meshes with the story. Non use of colour stock here ratchets up the tension further and, though often used as a cost saving measure, this drab background just makes the menace at hand all the more haunting. Even at its 144 minute length, perhaps five or ten minutes too long, you can’t help but get caught up in all the characters and the evil deeds that no one seems capable of solving. At films end there seems to be as many questions as answers in this one of a kind suspense tale that takes a small town mentality and turns it on its head. Fear is paramount in this movie and the use of school children well represents fear, panic, innocence and tons of uncertainty.
Be taken on an unforgettable journey through the vibrant performances of Rainer Brock as the town doctor, Burghart Klaubner as a man of God and Christian Friedel in a sparkling debut as a caring teacher make The White Ribbon a well-thought out, excellently executed suspense thriller. Scores of unique characters and unbelievable emotional tension make The White Ribbon a likely Oscar candidate if not winner for storytelling par excellence.
Note: This film is in German, with English subtitles.
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Austrian director Michael Haneke's icily beautiful The White Ribbon is a film very close to the perfection of a certain cinematic type. It lingers, it unfolds slowly and resolutely and unfolds further still when you start to try and unpack it after the fact - the film gets better in retrospect. Set in a small Protestant village in northern Germany in 1913, the film's various narrative threads interweave elegantly, obscurely, dreadfully until eventually, the bottom drops out underneath them all.
The film is narrated by a school teacher (Ernst Jacobi as the elder, Christian Friedel as the younger) reflecting on the time he spent as a youth in the village of Eichwald. Picturesque and seemingly idyllic, the village is shaken when the town's doctor is thrown from his horse after riding into a wire strung across his path by dun dun dunnnn... persons unknown. Is it the weird group of extremely polite creepazoid kids? Is it the humiliated midwife? The resentful libertine Baroness? As the schoolteacher attempts to woo a young nanny working for the Baron, a series of strange events unfold, small mysteries playing out: a barn is burnt, the son of the Baron is kidnapped and abused, the Pastor's bird is killed, the handicapped son of the midwife goes missing. The mysteries pile on top of each other, each small and unexplained, dour omens. The schoolteacher is witness and participant, observing without knowing a revelation of the dark, anxious and cruel character of the village.
While Haneke and the cinematographer and frequent collaborator Christian Berger do an astounding job of very very slowly ratcheting up the tension in the film, it eventually becomes clear that they're not particularly interested in the MacGuffin details of any of the small, petty cruelties the film documents. Instead, it becomes cruelly clear that the film, as Haneke himself has said, is about the origins of terror, a story about the lashings-out of a town in the repressive grip of the state, the church and above all else a moral code mandating repression, self-control and the keeping-up of appearances. Haneke's film with its worm-holes of petty violence, cruelly and sexual abuse mining their way through a very crisp, fastidiously maintained faÃ§ade of order and control is his own architecturally constructed, logically designed statement on the specific human flaws that led a generation later to the rise of Nazism.
Haneke's film is the rarest of things, a bit of very clever sleight of hand that doesn't leave its audience resentful or surly at having been misled, as the point of the film, its sub-textual ending-place is much much more interesting and a much better bargain than the film seems to be offering for the vast part of its textual bulk. This is something that Haneke does (but not always well - in his English-language film Funny Games he tries a similar trick and in that film it's incredibly irritating) and when it works, like it does in The White Ribbon or in his previous film CachÃ©, we're given works that are the literal antithesis of so much disposable generic fare, one that offers unexpected insights and rewards careful attention, and offer more the deeper into them one digs.
Thankfully, Haneke is a skilled enough craftsman that his film doesn't wait until its conclusion to offer up its rewards. It's not a lecture, or a lesson, it's anything but hard to sit through. It's arrestingly beautiful, shot originally in colour and desaturated in post, classically composed and beautifully lit. The performances match the script - minimal, ascetic and austere - and from this very careful control the film spins out slowly a very real, insidious, creeping dread and human anxiety, a Hitchcockian unease and suspense. It's smart without pretense, complex without disappearing into itself, slowly paced without boring. It's masterful, a dark pleasure to watch and even more so to unpack in the hours and days after seeing it, and if it's not the best film of the year, it's very very close. 9/10