The White Ribbon (2009)

“I gave God a chance to kill me. He didn’t do it, so he’s pleased with me.”

‘The White Ribbon’, written and directed by Michael Haneke in 2009 is an historical movie set in a small German village in the months leading up to the First World War. A series of mysterious accidents and crimes occur in the village each increasingly macabre and each seemingly connected to the children of the village pastor. The ruling triumvirate of the community: the pastor, the doctor and the baron, maintain a puritanical order but each are exposed as being hypocritically immoral. It’s an unsettling film, not least because, as with Haneke’s earlier movie ‘Caché’ it is a mystery which is ultimately unresolved. But more than this, Haneke does not intend the mystery to be resolved, and as such he constructs a feeling of apocalyptic societal breakdown that mirrors the events that are occurring outside the village as war approaches. The film is shot in black and white, but cleanly. Haneke is not trying to mimic old movies to give his film a sense of mediated history, but rather uses the monochrome as a way of focussing the attention of the viewer on the characters and, I think, to tie the village together as a real location. The director draws on the cinematography of Ingmar Bergman’s films, particular those he directed with Sven Nykvist, and Haneke achieves a similar feeling of emotional bleakness, but one balanced by the understated but intense performances. In a way, it draws on the same folk horror sources as ‘The Wicker Man, but far more subtly. In Haneke’s movie, the horror is always on the edge of the shot, or taking place entirely off-screen. Interestingly, the same displacement is true for the most significant murder that takes place in the film, that of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

Would I recommend it? Yes… I always say yes, but why not? Why wouldn’t you watch these films if they interest you. The point about most of the movies I talk about in this blog is that they have been selected by someone as being significant, so there must, at the very least, be something worth watching in them. I don’t always see it – but someone smarter than me might. Watch in a double-bill with ‘The Wicker Man’, of even ‘Village of the Damned, the 1960 adaptation of John Wyndham’s ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’, for the hell of it.


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