The White Ribbon (Das weisse band: eine Deutsche kindergeschichte)

The White Ribbon

“Who does things like that?” “I don’t know.”

The list has a bit of a struggling relationship with Michael Haneke. After Funny Games, it sought desperately to add another of the man’s films as representation, but each one was eventually culled from the list, apparently not standing the test of time or not remaining up to snuff. Well, it seems the list finally got what it wanted; a Haneke film worth it’s spot permanently. The White Ribbon comes with a tagline describing it as “a German children’s story”, though to what end this can be described as a children’s story is up for debate. For me, I think this is a story about the children, rather than being a story for children.

The film deals with a singular village, and the memories of a tailor-turned-schoolteacher who lived in the village for a time, when peculiar and rather cold-blooded events begin to befall the village heads and their families. Haneke is of a bigger mind than merely presenting this as a whodunit, and indeed we never find out who is responsible for these acts (though there are many clues as to who likely did it); it’s not about who, but rather why – what these people have done to deserve such actions taken upon them. This is juxtaposed with the group of children in the village, who are often at the brunt of the offensive behavior doled out by the elders, and what they go through at the hands of those ultimately responsible for them. The film was shot in color, then later bled down to black-and-white in post-production, which gives a very washed out feel to the film, especially in the winter when there’s blindingly white snow everywhere. Each shot is masterfully composed, and every frame could look like a painting or particularly expressive photograph. I was greatly pleased to see that much of this was due to Haneke’s skillful use of one of the cinema’s oldest and most oft-neglected tools: the tripod. Too often in today’s cinema is the camera floating about in a handheld way, when it should be still; people seem to have forgotten how to use a tripod, and instead just handheld everything, not realizing the strength and power the tripod gives the images. It’s refreshing to see a modern film that knows how to use the tools available to the filmmaker, and uses them well.

This is definitely the kind of film that critics adore, and I can see how it won the Palme d’Or. It’s stoic, ponderous, and moody, and says a lot more than it actually visibly and audibly says; critics seem to love subtext, and this one has a lot of that. That being said, this is another one that I’d have to admit I had a hard time getting through, and not just because of its length. It took me a couple days and probably three attempts before I finally got through the whole thing; not because it was bad or tiresome, but that it was very unengaging. The entertainment value with this one lies not in pure whiz-bang spectacle, or even well-done filmmaking; it lies with the introspection necessary to comprehend the messages of the film, which might be a bit much for some, which is why this one would come with a disclaimer if indeed it would get a recommendation. This is definitely one that you should know what you’re getting into before you do get into it. As long as it’s something you ultimately want to try, you’ll be satisfied with what you get.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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