March 5, 2010 by  

The White Ribbon


The White Ribbon

German children sing in the church choir in "The White Ribbon."

Starring: Christian Friedel, Burghart Klaussner, Leonie Benesch
Directed by: Michael Haneke (“Caché”)
Written by: Michael Haneke (“Caché”)

There is certainly a reason that the German film “The White Ribbon,” which won the top prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, is the favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film this weekend. It’s a haunting, metaphorical drama that speaks on many different levels, none more importantly than the idea of inherent evil and the loss of innocence.

Set in a small, Northern village in Germany at the start of World War I, Austrian director/writer Michael Haneke (“Caché”) builds the film’s tension on the mysterious accidents that begin to plague the villagers. When a doctor is injured after his horse trips on some wire and a boy is tied to a tree and tortured, the strange occurrences no longer seem like accidents as much as they do cruel pranks.

But who is to blame for what is happening in the once-peaceful village? Slowly, Haneke draws back the curtain as we watch the expressionless characters shot in cold black and white put a major dent in the history books. In doing so, Haneke once again explores the dark areas of human nature as he did with 2007’s sadistic “Funny Games.”

Most of “Ribbon” is narrated by a young school teacher (Christian Friedel), who is trying to find meaning behind his country’s fascist ideals and moral deficiency. His thoughts take him back to the small village where he remembers the children and the strict upbringing some of them became accustomed to.

Actor Burghart Klaussner is chilling as a pastor and the father of a handful of these children, who linger in the background of almost every scene like entities. The white ribbon he ties to his son’s and daughter’s arms is supposed to remind them of their purity. As you being to understand Haneke’s unpleasant viewpoint, “Ribbon” becomes all the more disturbing and intriguing.

While he never spells it out for the audience, Haneke’s message is a profound one. Even when he does allow us to see more of the heartlessness of these characters, “Ribbon” never becomes as unsettling as when these moments are happening behind closed doors.

Grade: A-

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