‘White Ribbon’ tells a story of evil and innocence

Winner of the Palm d’ Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, The White Ribbon is Austrian writer-director Michael Heneke’s (Cache, Funny Games) latest film in which a number of unexplained accidents that befalls a German village prior to World War II that might not be accidents, but malevolent acts of violence.
The film is set in a German village where half of the village works for a Baron (Ulrich Turkur) and the local protestant pastor (Burghart Klaussner) maintains a strong influence in the village. When the local doctor (Rainer Bock) is severely injured when his horse trips over a wire, this certain event sparks a chain reaction of random acts of violence and accidents including the kidnapping and punishment bestowed on the children of the Baron and a local midwife (Susanne Lother). As everyone in the village is questioning who is causing this kind of mayhem, the local schoolteacher (Christina Friedel) begins to suspect that his pupils might have something to do with what has been happening in the village.
The title of the movie comes from the punishment that the pastor bestows on his children by making them wear a white ribbon, which is a symbol of pure innocence, for their disobedience. One punishment goes as far as the pastor’s son has his hands tied to the bedpost because of the boy’s tendency to pleasure himself.
Michael Heneke manages to create an array of unforgettable characters that sometimes come across as borderline evil, creating a menacing and dark tone throughout the film. It is the actions of these characters such as the pastor and the doctor that is the catalyst to strange and bizarre events that are bestowed upon the German village. In the film, the children are taught to believe that God is watching at all times and they will go to hell if they “stray from the path of good”. While one child is sexually abused by a relative, another child acts out violently against a mentally challenged boy because of her father’s harsh punishments on her.
The only character that seems to be pure and good hearted is the schoolteacher. T he light that comes out the darkness of The White Ribbon is the schoolteacher romancing the Baron’s 17-year old nanny, Eva (Leonie Benesch). The romance seems to be overshadowed by an ominous tone and feeling that Heneke is going to throw an unavoidable obstacle that will seem unconquerable for the couple. The only child that does not seem to have any bad bone in his body is the pastor’s young son, Gustav (Thibault Serie), who is willing to give up a bird he has raised and trained to his father as a replacement for the pastor’s pet bird that was brutally killed.
Shot beautifully in black and white by cinematographer Christian Berger, The White Ribbon is not full of rapid cuts and editing. Instead, it is shot with a lot of long camera takes and shots that has become a trademark for the films of Michael Heneke. For example, the opening shot of the film fades from black to a 30 second camera take that follows focuses on the doctor riding in the distance on his horse towards the camera until he falls down with his horse. Another trademark of Heneke’s is shots that use sounds over images in order to show a scene without showing the audience what is occurring, which can be left to the imagination of the viewers.
However, the only complaint that I have for the film is that some of the question that posed in the film’s climax are never fully answered by the time the credits roll. With the final shot establishing some kind of answer, it is never fully explained why the strange accidents and acts of violence occurred in the first place.
The White Ribbon is a film shot gorgeously in black and white and it contains a cast of characters that have questionable morals and actions that would sometimes borderline on evil. This German imported film is considered to the frontrunner to win the Best Foreign Language Oscar in March.

THE WHITE RIBBON: 4 stars out of 5

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