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Home » Culture and Criticism

The White Ribbon

Submitted by on March 4, 2010 – 3:41 PM5 Comments

This is, I believe, the presumptive favorite for Best Foreign Film, with good reason. I've only seen one of the other nominees, and it's good, but The White Ribbon is in another class entirely; it's like comparing apples to needles.

The narration invites the viewer immediately to draw parallels between the events shown and the rise of National Socialism in Germany, and it's interesting to see how events unfold once that's been put in your head, but what the movie really excels at is creating an uncomfortable, oppressive atmosphere. The director shot the movie in color but printed it in black-and-white, and some scenes turn out so dark that you can't see what's going on — and you find yourself both straining towards the screen and cringing away from it. Even sunlit scenes seem chilly somehow, cooled by an invisible shadow.

The casting is excellent, especially the fathers, all of whom treat their "loved" ones (read: those under their control) with steady and entitled cruelty. The pastor in particular, unaware (or, perhaps, content) that his manipulations and shaming have sown the seeds of antisocial disorders in his children, is played without fear by Burghart Klaussner, and as a physical type, he's a perfect fit: jowly, his lips pressed thin by decades of sanctimonious frowning. Ditto Maria-Victoria Dragus, whose rendition of an unblinking tween sociopath is pitilessly creepy.

In the end, it's hard to say what exactly has happened or who exactly is responsible. The community reacts in horror at certain crimes against children; others are considered merely the way of things. Some vengeance is expected, other vengeance is denounced. The women are not so much abused as worn away. Blame is laid on the right people for the wrong things. Justice is not achieved, because it is barely sought. As an exploration of the roots of Nazism and the society that gave its permission to it, The White Ribbon answers the question of why with "…because." As such, it's believable, and very depressing.

This is not a fun movie to watch, but it's done extremely well, and I will be very surprised if it doesn't win the category.

Sarah 47, Death Race 11; 14 of 24 categories completed

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5 Comments »

  • meltina says:

    I've been waiting forever (well, only 3 months, it just feels like forever) to see this movie open near me, and by now I have read enough reviews where even if I'll cringe, I feel like I just have to see for myself (plus historical-without-the-emphasis-on-period movies are usually my thing).

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @meltina: I didn't mean to discourage anyone. It's really really good. But it's stern stuff.

  • Elisa says:

    I love German films, this one's at the top of my Netflix queue. Most German films are stern stuff, I did my MA in German studies and let's just say that between the literature I had to read and the movies we watched in our classes, I was starting to lose my mind. But I've recovered…bring it on, White Ribbon!

  • meltina says:

    @ Sars, it wasn't just you. It's made every "Best of 2009" critic list, but said critics unanimously agree that it's great stuff that is nonetheless extremely hard to watch.

    Unfortunately for me, that's the sort of thing that makes me more curious about something, not less. =P

  • Ashleigh says:

    It's definitely dark, but having seen most of Haneke's other films, I expected a lot worse. And yes, this should absolutely win Best Foreign Film.

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