Review: The White Ribbon
PLOT: In the months leading up to the start of the First World War, strange, violent incidents resembling ritual punishment take place in a small German village.
REVIEW: In many ways, THE WHITE RIBBON is a war film. Not in the traditional sense, as the First World War only breaks out in the final few minutes, but rather- this is about a spiritual war, one in which evil triumphs every time.
The violent incidents that transpire in THE WHITE RIBBON are strongly hinted to be the work of the local pastorís children. This is not a spoiler, as itís obvious very early in the film that his rather Aryan looking brood is to blame. Their father is a rigid man who forces them to wear white ribbons tied around their arms as a symbol of purity (not unlike the arm bands worn by the Nazis thirty years later). When he suspects one of his children has begun experimenting with masturbation, he has the child tied down at night to keep him from touching himself.
Alas, his children learn his lesson of purity all too well. To them, the village is full of people who need to be cleansed from sin. In some cases, these sins are very real, with the pederast village doctor almost being crippled at one point. In most cases though, the sins are imagined, with a local boy being tortured due to his father being guilty of greed, or a mentally retarded boy being blinded due to the fact that he was born out of wedlock.
In many ways, their ideology is the precursor for Nazism, with these children seeming like the type of Germans that grew up to join the SS. Nazi ideology aside, this film could also be taken as commentary on ideological extremism of any form; easily applicable to the type of Islamic Fundamentalist terrorist who would help perpetrate 9/11, or the far right Christian Fundamentalists that would bomb an abortion clinic, or any other such organization who insists on punishing those that donít follow their ideology.
My thematic reading of the film aside, THE WHITE RIBBON is a great film on every level. Besides the engrossing, relevant storyline, this is also a beautifully crafted film. Visually, itís among the best films in recent memory, with it being shot in gorgeous black and white. This is a departure for director Michael Haneke- whose films usually arenít as polished visually, with grainy DV being his usual choice (used brilliantly in his film CACHE). Here, the film is shot on rich 35MM film, and each shot looks like a beautiful B&W still photograph. Interestingly, the film does not have a musical score, which gives the film a certain matter-of-factness that suits it well.
THE WHITE RIBBON is another triumph for director Michael Haneke, and I can see why itís the front-runner for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars this year (it already won the Palme díor at Cannes, along with a host of other awards). While itís not an easy film, it is a worthwhile one.