The White Ribbon View large image


Film Details

Directed by: Michael Haneke

Produced: 2009

Countries & Regions: Austria, France, Germany

DVD Details

Certificate: 15

Length: 144 mins

Format: DVD

Released: 15 March 2010

Cat No: ART479DVD

Moviemail Details

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The White Ribbon

Cast: Josef Bierbichler , Susanne Lothar , Steffi Kuhnert , Ulrich Tukur , Michael Schenk , Theo Trebs , Christian Friedel , Rainer Bock , Ursina Lardi , Steffi Kühnert , Leonie Benesch , Burghart Klauss , Leonard Proxauf

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Michael Haneke won the 2009 Cannes Palm d’Or for this two-and-a-half hour black and white study of German rural village life in 1913.... Read More




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Michael Haneke won the 2009 Cannes Palm d’Or for this two-and-a-half hour black and white study of German rural village life in 1913. Focusing in particular on the austere and often brutal environment of the village school, the film not only exposes the cruelty and hypocrisy of adults towards children but offers an insight into the undercurrents of patriarchy and repression that went on to shape 20th-century Germany. As the outbreak of war draws near, a series of violent and unexplained events shake the small community to its core. In true Haneke style, the film is less concerned with providing a definitive answer to ’whodunnit’ than with examining the unhealthy processes that contribute to a sick, disenfranchised society.

"Films that are entertainments give simple answers but I think that's ultimately more cynical, as it denies the viewer room to think," explains Michael Haneke. "If there are more questions at the end, then surely it is a richer experience."

The German-born director of The White Ribbon has confounded audiences with psychological mysteries such as Hidden (2005) and disturbed them with provocative thrillers such as Funny Games (1997, 2007). With over 30 characters and a detailed historical setting, The White Ribbon provides Haneke with his broadest canvas to date, but the film's message unfolds with a clarity that is as meticulous as its crisp black and white cinematography.

The story is set in 1913 in Eichwald, a small protestant German town which has been beset by a series of unfortunate accidents, some minor, some tragic, and some sinister. First the Doctor (Rainer Bock) falls from his horse after stumbles over a tripwire. Soon, cabbage patches are vandalised, fires started, toy flutes stolen - and then the violence takes on a darker, more ritualistic character.

Like György Pálfi's Hukkle (2002), The White Ribbon poses the viewer with a holistic mystery: in order to understand the strange incidents that beset the townsfolk, one must first solve the puzzle of village life in particular, and German society in general.

The adults of Eichwald are known only by their positions within the community: the unpopular Baron (Ulrich Tukur), the stern Pastor (Burghart Klaussner) and the pleasantly gormless Schoolteacher (Christian Friedel), who narrates the story in flashback. The children of the village all have names, but their roles and motives are less obvious.

Despite its disquieting tone, The White Ribbon is buoyed by several moments of levity and a sweet subplot involving the Schoolteacher's earnest attempts to court a local 17-year-old. And even a blisteringly vile tirade between the Doctor and his mistress contains a certain dark humour.

Winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes, The White Ribbon is a tautly beautiful dissection of a community, which, like Edgar Reitz's Heimat (1984), locates the early signs of the Second World War in the minutiae of everyday village life. By the end, not everything is resolved, but the film's themes are starkly clear: guilt, shame and punishment lead to defiance, perversity and violence.

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