Showered with praise upon its release, The White Ribbon is a slow-burning masterwork, the images of which will remain with the viewer for a lifetime. True to form, director Michael Haneke forebodes the real drama with short, disquieting scenes (such as the discussion Anni has with her little brother about the inevitability of death), as well as that most famous of Haneke mainstays, the unpopulated fixed-camera shot. Those who had doubted his film style before may feel the need for re-evaluation here – while it is no less shocking than the rest of his canon, there is a sense of artistic maturity here, the film often echoing Bergman and Reitz.
Wednesday, 30 December 2009
The White Ribbon concerns the inhabitants of the German village of Eichwald, in the period preceding World War One. The village is clearly led by three patriarchs. The pastor reduces his children to penance-seeking zealots, punishing them for minor transgressions and tying white ribbons of ‘purity’ to them to remind them of their immorality. The doctor subjects both his daughter and housekeeper to sexual humiliation, while maintaining a good rapport with many of the other villagers. The despotic baron and lord of the manor shows no mercy to his workers. Suddenly, the village is beset by a series of dramatic incidents – the doctor is thrown from his horse, the manor barn is set on fire, the pastor’s canary is killed. Through struggling to piece the mystery together, the local schoolteacher soon learns that the pastor’s punishments have not gone without consequence.