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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From July, 1913 to the outbreak of World War I, a series of incidents take place in a German village. A horse trips on a wire and throws the rider; a woman falls to her death through rotted planks; the local baron's son is hung upside down in a mill; parents slap and bully their children; a man is cruel to his long-suffering lover; another sexually abuses his daughter. People disappear. A callow teacher, who courts a nanny in the baron's household, narrates the story and tries to investigate the connections among these accidents and crimes. What is foreshadowed? Are the children holy innocents? God may be in His heaven, but all is not right with the world; the center cannot hold. Written by
Stunningly beautiful, shot in the exquisite black and white, with the faces of the characters looking like the old pictures from the beginning of the 20th century, The White Ribbon has the longer title in German, Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte -The White Ribbon - A German Children's Tale. The longer title gives quite a good idea behind the mystery of the troubling, disturbing, and shocking events in the film that did not have an explanation by the end of the film and left some viewers confused and unsatisfied. I think that the film is very clear and if approached with the open mind and readiness to accept the subtle details in the storytelling and implication, the open end will not disappoint. Anybody who is familiar with the work of Michael Haneke knows very well that he does not make pure mystery/thrillers even though his movies have a lot of mysteries and often very dark secrets By his own admissions, he uses the mystery in the White Ribbon to show the origins of the extremism of all epochs, and what could have been the beginning of the darkest times in the history of the country. Looking at the life of one small picturesque village in the northern Germany just on the brink of the World War 1, Haneke explores the malice, envy, apathy, hatred, and brutality that envelop the village like a web, and lead to the outbursts of evil that goes unpunished and will bring the larger evil in the future. While watching the film, I kept thinking how much it brings to mind the films of another master of grim and sad yet compelling and thought provoking pictures, Ingmar Bergman. Two of his films remind The White Ribbon especially. One, The Winter Light, a tragic and thought-provoking film about a village priest (Gunnar Bjornstrand) who can't give much comfort and hope to those who need them as he feels none for himself. Another - Fanny and Alexander, the story told from the point of view of two children, a brother and a sister whose lives changed tragically after their widowed mother married a local bishop, seemingly a charming and caring man. What would have happened to Fanny and Alexander, what kind of persons would they have become or would they have survived had they not had a big dysfunctional but loving family who saved them from the abusive, cruel hypocritical stepfather, Bishop Edvard Vergerus?
Like Bergman, Michael Haneke does not make the horror films but the computer generated monsters are simply a joke comparing to the real monsters of hatred and evil that found a place to hide and grow in the souls and minds of the characters in his latest film. It is a serious, disturbing, and thought-provoking film. With all its darkness and pessimism, the film has sweet, touching and even humorous moments. They have to do with the only love story in the film and come to think of it, the only love story in all Haneke's films I've seen, between the film's narrator, the local school teacher and the 17 years old Eva, the nanny for the children of the baron, the most powerful man in village.
One of the critics said that The White Ribbon is the film that will haunt the viewers for days and will be seen, discussed and thought of for the decades to come. I completely agree with that, and I feel I can watch it again and again. Yes, it is that good.
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