WHITE RIBBON, THE
On the eve of World War II in Eichwald, a village in Protestant northern Germany, the rather oppressed children of the pastor (Burghart Klaussner), the widowed doctor (Rainer Bock) and the disliked landowner Baron (Ulrich Tukur) experience a series of bizarrely violent incidents that inexplicably assume the characteristics of a punishment ritual. The schoolteacher (Christian Friedl), who develops an attraction for the Baron's new nanny Eva (Leonie Benesch) is drawn into the mystery as he tries to find the perpetrators.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Eichwald in Protestant Northern Germany on the eve of WW II is a place of malice, envy, brutality and fear. And that's before a series of nasty events which hurt, maim and kill children of the village. The first casualty is the doctor (Rainer Bock), whose horse is tripped by a hidden wire; the horse doesn't survive and the doctor is hospitalised for many weeks. Other incidents soon follow, including the fatal fall of a tenant farmer's wife from a loft, a burnt down bar .... Escalating to the awful ritual punishment of a couple of the village children.
But the perpetrator is never found, although we are given a glimpse of who kills the caged little bird at the pastor's house.
There are few sympathetic characters. The schoolteacher is one; Christian Friedl gives an affecting performance as the 31 year old innocent who gets dragged into the mystery while simultaneously getting drawn into a sweet romance with the 17 year old nanny, Eva, played with such vulnerability and charm by Leonie Benesch.
The fathers are all fascists, even the Pastor (Burghart Klaussner) and especially the widowed doctor, whose housekeeper (Susanne Lothar in a heartbreaking performance) bears the brunt of his brutish behaviour. The children - almost all - are innocents who seem destined to emerge from their innocence into the same putrid world their parents inhabit. This, too, is a riff in the film, but the performances by these youngsters is astonishing; that alone is worth the pain of the film's uber-grim reality.
As always, Michael Haneke ensures that no audience feels comfortable during the film, and uses truncated scenes, incompletely framed shots, the total absence of underscore music and the voiced narration of the schoolteacher in his old age looking back, as tools to create the tone and the sense of time and place. Shot beautifully in black and white, the film hints darkly at the fascist society that breeds such people - or is it the other way round?
For all its cinematic strengths, The White Ribbon explores its themes without fulfilling its promise to illuminate them and leaving a taste of futility and depression in its wake.
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WHITE RIBBON, THE (M)
Das weisse Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte
CAST: Leonie Benesch, Josef Bierbichler, Rainer Bock, Ulrich Tukur, Ursina Lardi, Michael Kranz, Burghart Klaussner, Steffi Kühnert, Janina Fautz, Susanne Lothar, Rozane Duran, Branko Smaraovski, Birgit Minichmayer, Kai Malina, Sebatsian Hülk, Aaron Denkel, Detlev Buck
VOICES: Ernst Jacobi
PRODUCER: Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz, Margaret Menegoz, Andrea Occhipinti
DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke
SCRIPT: Michael Haneke
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christian Berger
EDITOR: Monika Willi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Christoph Kanter
RUNNING TIME: 144 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 6, 2010