Sunday, October 23, 2011

Das weiße Band (The White Ribbon) (2009)

The White Ribbon creepsThe black-and-white aesthetic of The White Ribbon adds an air of mystery and distance in this recounting of sinister events in a German village in the years before World War I.

The disturbing tale kicks off when a metal wire is rigged between two poles. The village doctor takes a life-threatening fall when his horse runs into said wire. The investigation grows cold—no witnesses, motives nor evidence. The next several incidents lead to the conclusion that someone is performing ritual punishments. Are the village children the perpetrators? The narrator has his own side story that allows for a bit of humor—a rare trait in a Michael Haneke film. It works juxtaposed against the intense main storyline. 

The White Ribbon has Haneke’s trademark theme—that we are all sadists. In fact, the events depicted are based on alleged incidents recorded in Germany and Austria in the 1920s and 1940s. The foreshadowing is clear—the German Reich lies ahead and many of these kids will end up in the Nazi movement. Is it coincidence that the white ribbon the Pastor makes his children wear when they are in need of moral cleansing is reminiscent of the bands the Jews were forced to wear during the Hitler regime?

The White Ribbon is engaging. Yet another Haneke ending without clarity is frustrating, especially after more than two hours.

Open letter to Michael Haneke:

Dear Mr. Haneke,

You are a master storyteller. I watch your movies with rapt interest. Despite their length, I don’t find myself clock watching which is different from how I behave at baseball games; they go too long and should end after the 7th inning. But, I digress.

My point is that unresolved endings mimic real life, but art offers us a break from that reality. Occasionally, I’d be delighted to see a decisive conclusion. That said, The Piano Teacher is a favorite with a reasonable ending. I refer instead to Caché, Funny Games and The White Ribbon. Your open-ended formula needs an overhaul. I don’t know if these children were culpable nor do I know if The School Teacher married Klara.

Despite my nitpicks, this movie was nominated for and won several prestigious awards. Check it out and see what you opine.

Writer/Director: Michael Haneke

Country: Austria

Genre: Drama

Run time: 144 minutes

Scale: 4

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