“I gave God a chance to kill me…”
The White Ribbon is the latest film by Austrian born director Michael Haneke. Those who are familiar with Haneke know that he is a fan of long, detailed shots (Cache), and violence (Funny Games) to express and communicate to his audience. But his latest film Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon) which is nominated this year for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars steers us in a ultimately different direction: to that of a pre-World War 1 black and white Germany … stimulating a breeding ground for hate, fascism, and events to come later in this country.
But the true theme of The White Ribbon is simply evil. A brilliantly put together careful and cautious analysis of pure evil.
The film takes place shortly before WW1, and showcases a large cast of adults and children who live in a tiny village in North Germany. Strange events begin to happen in this village; a series of violent, mysterious actions and it has the villagers wondering why, and even more … WHO? Narrating the story is our “do gooder” local school teacher, now grown and elderly-as he lays out a description and narrative of the events that happened in this time and era. We do not know WHY, HOW, or WHO-no one does-and don’t expect to get an answer in the end.
In fact, I was extremely underwhelmed by the ending. I knew once the credits had rolled I missed something. I knew it was powerful, visually speaking of course, but I could not shake the feeling of these images-these stories of the children and the adults, and the secrets of their families. I wanted an answer, and the brilliance of this film lies in the 2 hours or so you will spend reworking the film in your head AFTER it ends as you look back on the simple, violent events and try to draw a conclusion or an answer of some sort. Something unnerved me, something was definitely in the air in this film-and it was meant to be felt- in the aftermath. Much like the suggestion and underlying tone of these manipulative, neglected children who will grow up to be the fascist adults in Nazi Germany. They come from a breeding ground where adults can sin, and children can get away with anything. The symbol of the white ribbon is tied around their arm-worn as a punishment for actions-only to be taken off once they are deemed “pure again”.
This film is a masterpiece, and no wonder it won this years coveted ‘Palme d’Or’ at the Cannes Film Festival. It carries a simple message-of a time, a place, and these people. It foreshadows events later to come, and it rattles you. It will shake you, and it will move you, and ultimately its message will take hold of you and not let go.
The White Ribbon is now playing exclusively at Brooklyn Heights Cinema, in Brooklyn, NY.