Thursday, April 15, 2010

THE WHITE RIBBON (2009) / ****

Distributor: Sony Classics
Release Date: December 30, 2009
Genre: Foreign
Running Time: 144 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Whoa, Doc. This is heavy.

Walking out of director Michael Haneke’s (“The Piano Teacher,” “Cache”) latest film “The White Ribbon,” that was the one word that kept coming back to me: heavy. The story burrows its way into your brain and takes up residence there. This is by no means an easy film. It’s difficult, challenging, and dense. But it’s also very rewarding if you appreciate movies that don’t provide easy answers.

“Ribbon” takes place in a small village in Northern Germany just prior to World War I. The narrator of the story is The School Teacher as an Old Man (the voice of Ernst Jacobi). At the time of the events of the film, The School Teacher (Christian Friedel) is 31 years old.

One day, The Doctor (Rainer Bock) is riding his horse when it trips over a wire. Who would put a wire there? Were they trying to hurt The Doctor specifically, or was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time? The same questions come up when a barn burns down, when a child is found severely beaten and almost blinded, or when a woman is found dead at the local sawmill, amongst other tragedies. Haneke doesn’t allow the film to be confined to a regular “whodunit” type of story, but lets it breathe and develop to some frightening conclusions.

The main theme that comes up over and over in discussions of this film is its commentary on the origins of Nazism. In the production notes, Haneke said:

“The grownups of 1933 and 1945 were children in the years prior to World War I. What made them susceptible to following political Pied Pipers? My film doesn’t attempt to explain German fascism. It explores the psychological preconditions of its adherents. What in people’s upbringing makes them willing to surrender their responsibilities? What in their upbringing makes them hate?”

“The willingness to follow ideological Pied Pipers arises everywhere and in every age. All that’s needed are misery, humiliation and hopelessness, and the longing for deliverance swells up. Anyone who promises salvation will find followers, and it doesn’t really matter whether theirs is a right- or a left-wing ideology, a political or a religious doctrine of salvation.”

In addition to being nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars, cinematographer Christian Berger (who also worked with Haneke on “Cache” and “The Piano Teacher”) was also nominated for his stunning work. It’s shot in black and white, which is the absolute right choice for the material.

The White Ribbon refers to the literal white ribbons that the local pastor makes his children wear when they have strayed from innocence. Just how far do they stray? And are there other characters who should be wearing the ribbon, and should we know who they are? Haneke says “There are logical explanations for every crime in the film. You just have to look for them, which is why I don’t provide all the answers.”

Theater: Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof Theater
Time: 415 pm
Date: April 7, 2010

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