2.5 stars, (R)
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They say that shooting The White Ribbon
in black and white was deliberate, but I think it was shot in the traditional fashion and the movie is just so unrelentingly sour and bleak that it sucked the color right out of the film. The production is written and directed by Michael Haneke, who also made Cache
and Funny Games
. Right now, most individuals that sat through those movies are currently marking "see White Ribbon
" off of their "Things To Do" list. Admittedly, there are others that are adding the film to their schedule. Go figure.
For those unfamiliar with his work, Haneke is a control freak who makes well-crafted, remarkably annoying movies. He's an edgy filmmaker, which in his case means he enjoys making his audience as uncomfortable as possible. He's also fond of presenting mysteries and refusing to offer resolution to the viewer. It's so much more genuine that way, you know. Only chumps want resolution. How much better to make the viewers provide their own answers? Even better, I think, why not urge viewers to make up their own mysteries and then work out their own solutions, thereby saving them $9.50 and a headache? Talk about edgy - the concept is positive Yoko Ono-ish!
The film, incidentally, won the Golden Palm Award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and has received a boatload of positive reviews. I will grudgingly admit that, despite my dislike of Haneke, the two-and-a-half-hour film, in German with English subtitles, held my attention. Haneke really does have a way with a camera. I loved the way it moved and appreciated the shots where the camera stays in one spot for a long time, allowing characters to walk in and out of its view rather than following them. He has used the technique before and overdoes it, but I still appreciated many of those shots in this context. Mostly, I was fascinated by the severity of the movie. I cared about the people living in this almost comically dreadful culture. I was caught up in the mystery aspect as well, even though I knew that the best I could hope for was ambiguity.
The story is set in a German village shortly before the beginning of World War I. Everyone in town trudges around looking miserable. Imagine a group of Puritans on a long walk wearing shoes two sizes too small and you'll get the idea. Our narrator is a school teacher enamored with a young nanny. Everyone's depressing daily lives are shaken by a series of strange events. The local doctor is seriously injured when his horse trips on a wire strung between two trees near his home. A woman working for the Baron is killed on the job. Children get assaulted repeatedly. So who's doing these terrible things? The teacher offers an explanation of sorts, but it's nothing definite.
If you're wondering about the title, it comes from the Pastor, who forces his eldest son and daughter to each wear a white ribbon for a year to remind them of purity. The Pastor also has the boy's hands tied to the bed each night to stop him from the nightmarish sin of masturbation. Quick, somebody get this guy a "World's Greatest Dad" coffee cup! I won't go into the other characters. Suffice to say that the children are either creepy or victims-in-waiting and the adults are either resentful victims or insensitive thugs.
So why is my star rating relatively high in comparison to this essay? I point to my admiration of the craft of the movie and add that, as repulsed as I was by the village, every second of what I saw remains vivid in my mind. If you're feeling very adventurous and extremely patient, you may find rewards in the ugliness that is The White Ribbon
. But for most of you, my suggestion is to run! Run like the wind to someplace where the sun shines and there is hope in the air.