The White Ribbon [DVD] 
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A village in Protestant northern Germany. 1913-1914. On the eve of World War I. The story of the children and teenagers of a choir run by the village schoolteacher, and their families: the baron, the steward, the pastor, the doctor, the midwife, the tenant farmers. Strange accidents occur and gradually take on the character of a punishment ritual. Who is behind it all?
Like an ice-cold shower, Michael Haneke's solemn and sobering films are more often good for the soul than a guaranteed pleasure. While not as confrontational as his previous film Funny Games, Haneke's The White Ribbon--an account of sinister events in a rural German village in 1913--offers no compromises to the audience, but creates an unsolvable, unsettling riddle meant as a remedy to the disposable violence of conventional cinema. The morality of the village is safeguarded by three powerful disciplinarians: a doctor, a pastor and a baron, each privately abusive in different ways. Their order is threatened by a series of local incidents ranging from apparent accidents to acts of callous sabotage and vicious cruelty. The village's creepy-looking children are somehow involved; in 20 years, the narrator reflects, the same kids will participate in the rise of Nazi Germany, and a link is implied between the rise of fascism and a generation's moral hypocrisy and authoritarianism. But nothing is confirmed and no-one is accused. Neither is the audience off the hook: we're complicit in the generalized evil at the heart of The White Ribbon for expecting the kind of palatable violence that's carried out by unambiguous villains. Haneke gives us no such consolation. To borrow Al Pacino's great lines from Scarface: we're not allowed to point our fingers and say 'that's the bad guy', however much we need to. --Leo Batchelor --This text refers to the Blu-ray edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
If I had to sum it up in one line I'd say it is majestically Proustian in its treatment of the life of a pre-1stWW rural German community - but without the laughs.
An utterly memorable film that, some months after seeing it, still remains with me. The casting is superb - it's almost impossible to believe that these are not real characters, experiencing real - and terrible - events. The choice of treatment (almost no music except when integral to the story, black & white, long, lingeringly long, scenes full of rich detail making it utterly worthwhile to concentrate and stay with it - and, most impressive of all, no lurid scenes spelling out in prurient detail the cruelties perpetrated - the restraint was so powerfully used it was almost unbearable to think of what was happening...
But bearable it was, surprisingly, and I sat through this long film mesmerised, feeling totally swept up by it; the people and the room in which I sat seemed to disappear and I felt I WAS THERE, a ghostly observer, hardly daring to breathe.
The story took me on a journey I didn't realise I was going to make, and wouldn't have chosen to make but circumstances were such I had no choice but to be there - and I have absolutely no regrets and no doubt that I've seen one of the all-time great films. Setting aside the horrors of the various anguished situations that make up the story, it clears up any soppily Disneyesque ideas one might have had that rural life was golden in those times before the first WW. On many levels, this film had great integrity.
It is stunningly shot in black and white and well acted particularly by the children. It's a convincing film whose camera shots convey menace and evil in a way that is unsettling.
The story of a small German village and the appalling sequence of events that touch all the lives there is told through the schoolmaster. What do the atrocities mean? Who is the perpetrator? What part do the children play?
Given the adults are almost all unsavoury (one encounters abuse of all types) it is not surprising that the children grow up in a peculiar fashion. There will be parallels drawn between village life and the Nazis (indeed it's not hard to see one of the girls as a future concentration camp guard), but the film works well as a portrayal of an insular community turning in on itself.
Those who like their films neatly wrapped up with solutions will be disappointed. It provides no such comfort. But the conclusion of the film left me thoughtful and I returned to it days later to puzzle out what I thought about it. I'm still not entirely sure, but is it worth seeing? Yes indeed.
Twice while I was watching this film, I had somewhere else to go, but I couldn't move. I found the tale to be spellbinding. You've got to have a taste for angst, horror and depravity, which tend to be Haneke's signature themes, but as in Cache or Code Unknown, Haneke evokes something painful about the human condition, the misunderstandings, the brutality and the lack of knowledge of other people's motives and actions.
I can see why some people would hate it. The film shows you of the cruelty of parents, the shame of childhood sexuality, adult sexual abuse of children and the reality of profound unhappiness, and Haneke does it in very raw ways. It's very like a Thomas Hardy story, which remains unsatisfyingly unresolved. Like Ravel's Pavane pour une infante defunte, this film leaves you with a depression that lingers for days. But good depression, which leads to a more profound understanding of life.
This film is extraordinary with myriad levels of interest. As an insight into rural lifestyles of the era it is fascinating (it would seem German agricultural production was much more labour-intensive and much less mechanised than in Britain at the same time, although probably it's wrong to make generalisations from the depiction of events on just one estate). It clearly shows how society was stratified into aristocracy (the Baron and Baroness), the educated elite (the doctor, the pastor & the teacher) the somewhat educated higher-level servants (the steward and the nanny) with uneducated agricultural labourers at the bottom of the pack.
Visually, the film is stunning; there is tremendous attention to detail in terms of costumes and architecture (just occasionally an over-modern window frame creeps in). Time and time again, there are beautifully composed shots of the village, the fields and the estate. The interiors of the houses are particularly noteworthy. When the peasant farmer goes into his bedroom to see his just-dead wife, the bareness and unevenness of the walls is indescribably depressing. The interiors of the other homes have been recreated entirely in keeping with the station of the owner.
The two above points, however, are not the main reason for watching the film (they are sort of extra "treats", if you like). A series of sinister events leads to closer scrutiny of the characters mentioned above.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
As with all Michael Haneke’s films, I could write a whole essay on his 2009 release, ‘The White Ribbon’. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Nicholas Casley
Beautifully shot in Black & White and looks absolutely stunning on Blu-ray.Published 3 months ago by hammerkop
Weird film. Not sure why I didn't turn it off. I didn't and I just wasted 90mins of my life. Sadly I know I will never get that time back,which is annoying but you live and learn.Published 7 months ago by Sybronic
its in german with English subtitles, so difficult to watch I gave upPublished 9 months ago by Simon Baggett