The White Ribbon


Reviewed by: Leanne McGrath

The White Ribbon
"The White Ribbon is tough but engaging, thought-provoking viewing and boasts flawness technical achievements most directors can only dream of."

Set in the year before World War I, this beautifully shot yet harrowing tale about the authoritarian environment in which fascism is born takes place in a small village in northern Germany plagued by a series of horrifying and strange events.

These include the doctor’s horse being felled by tripwire, a newborn baby being exposed to the winter freeze after a window is opened and the son of a baron disappearing, only to be found with his feet and hands bound and his buttocks lashed. Another child is also severely beaten.

Copy picture

The crimes, committed by an unknown perpetrator, appear random andare met with horror by the puritan villagers, who live by a strict Lutheran code of morality, enforced by a disciplinarian pastor who rules his house and parish with a rod of iron. He makes his children wear the white ribbon of the movie's title to remind them to be pure and innocent.

The villagers are shocked at the cruel, vindictive crimes - a stark contrast to the horrific acts they tolerate and turn a blind eye to. These include sexual abuse, the pastor whipping his children for the most innocent misdeeds and tying his son's arms to the side of his bed for masturbating, and the baron sacking a farmer after his son destroys a field of cabbage.

The movie promotes the idea that strict, authoritarian, dysfunctional and repressive societies such as this made it easy for Nazi ideology to brainwash the population years later.

Our narrator, the village schoolteacher telling the story years later, claims the events "could perhaps clarify some things that happened in this country".

The White Ribbon is not an easy film to watch but one that is truly unmissable. It's reminscent of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman - a bleak tale beautifully shot and directed. The black and white cinematography is stunning, while the rich period detail compensates for the unsettling plotline.

The use of framing is exquisite, keeping some events hidden but forcing us to confront others. We do not see anything more graphic than a slap but there is an overbearing atmosphere of horror as we watch a closed door yet hear the cries ringing out from behind it.

The film moves at a slow yet steady pace and is superbly acted, even by the youngest cast members. Notable is Maria-Victoria-Douglas as the pastor's daughter Klara, whose outwardly pious facade disguises an inner evil. She is the ringleader of a group of Village Of The Damned-style children who may or may not be behind some of the crimes.

Few of the adult characters are referred to by their Christian names, instead they are described by their job title - the doctor, the baron, the pastor, the schoolteacher. In this way they are just everymen of their generation, a representative of pre-war German society as a whole. When war breaks out, it is almost a relief for the villagers. The previous few months' events are forgotten as they face the forthcoming wars - a continuation of their recent horrors but on a larger scale.

The White Ribbon is tough but engaging, thought-provoking viewing and boasts flawness technical achievements most directors can only dream of.

It won the prestigious Palm d'Or at the Cannes film festival, plus a Best Foreign Language Film Golden Globe and two Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography. Unmissable and unforgettable.

Reviewed on: 23 Mar 2010
Share this with others on...
The White Ribbon packshot
Tensions in a German town on the eve of the First World War.
Amazon link

Read more The White Ribbon reviews:

Chris *****
Amber Wilkinson ****

Director: Michael Haneke

Writer: Michael Haneke

Starring: Ernst Jacobi, Christian Friedel, Susanne Lothar, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur, Ursina Lardi, Burghart Klaussner, Rainer Bock, Josef Bierbichler, Branko Smarovski

Year: 2009

Runtime: 144 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Austria, Germany, France, Italy

Search database:

If you like this, try:

The Wave