Purity in pre-War Germany: The White Ribbon


It’s too bad Michael Haneke films are so hard to watch.  His latest anti-blockbuster The White Ribbon, is a superb and daring film, but will be seen by relatively few. Beautiful (shot in crisp black and white) and oblique, The White Ribbon is unflinching in its portrayal of Germany before the First World War.

The film tracks a series of crimes and accidents that beset the small town of Eichwald.  The town doctor’ suffers a mysterious riding accident, and it’s all-downhill from there.  Soon the Baron’s son is found bound and whipped, someone burns down a barn, and the town’s children suddenly appear at the scent of blood like Aryan vultures.  Amazingly, Haneke’s characters function historically and allegorically, and still his actor’s performances are visceral and natural.

That being said, you aren’t going to enjoy this movie unless you can handle some slooow pacing and disturbing subject matter.  For example, one of the film’s best scenes involves a four-year-old becoming aware of death, and then correctly guessing that his mother isn’t on vacation. Haneke goes to great lengths to rid his on-screen violence of any entertainment factor, * letting the audience contemplate the underlying cruelty.

Starring Burghart Klaußner (Tatort) and Susanne Lothar (Funny Games), the White Ribbon is that most unexpected of things, an original film about European Fascism.

*Truffaut once said that it is impossible to make a war film that doesn’t glorify battle.  I agree with the caveat that Haneke probably could if he tried.

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