Movie review: The White Ribbon

Movie review: The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band) is a haunting tale buried deep beneath the quaint and idyllic surface of a quiet German village. The film was nominated for a best foreign language Oscar and won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Michael Haneke, the story is set in the small fictitious protestant community of Eichwold in 1913.

The Village Hierarchy

The village, which is reminiscent of feudal times, has a strict social and class structure which is obvious at the beginning of the film and becomes embedded as the story unfolds. At the top of the hierarchy is the baron (Ulrich Tukur) who looks down on the townsfolk, treating them with a cold and distant manner.

Others high up in the chain of command include the Protestant minister (Burghart Klaussner) an austere man who rules his family with a spiked iron fist and the doctor (Ranier Vock), a widower with two children. The story is mostly narrated by the school teacher who is telling the tale from his perspective many years later.

Heinous CharactersThe movie is full of heinous characters, most of which are men. The pastor, for example, ties white ribbons to his eldest children to humiliate them in public under the guise of reminding them of their innocence and purity. He also ties his son to his bed at night time to stop him from doing to himself things he considers sinful.

The baron who is the largest landowner in the town and therefore the major employer is more interested in profits than his employees’ welfare. This is evident when a farmer’s wife dies in the sawmill after falling through broken floorboards. The town doctor is anything but caring. He sexually abuses his young teenage daughter and callously belittles and humiliates his mistress, the local midwife.

Also unlikeable is the town itself which is full of detestable creatures. The children in this movie have a scary, enigmatic quality. A son-bears-the-sins-of-the-father theme runs throughout the entire film. The children are menacing, much like the young characters in the 1980s horror movie The Children of the Corn but with a creepy and mysterious undertone.

It seems as though Haneke has positioned viewers to see the children that way on purpose. The odious and sinister blond-haired children are reminiscent of the young protagonists in another of Haneke’s dark and twisted films Funny Games which like this film, has a terribly disturbing world view. There is a crossover of innocence and evil in both films, with the latter strongly at the forefront.