#292 The White Ribbon
(2009, Michael Haneke)
Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte
The last time we encountered Michael Haneke, it was via the rather excellent Funny Games, a dark thriller that criticised the audience for being a voyeur to murder for wanting to enjoy a thriller movie. So naturally I was looking forward to this, but does it live up to expectations?
Set in the fictional German village of Eichwald in 1913, The White Ribbon follows the lives of the villagers, including a schoolteacher who has fallen in love with a young girl named Eva, a pastor who is obsessed with purity and will punish his children for minor transgressions (usually by making them wear the titular ribbon), a doctor who treats children with respect but is cruel to his wife, and various other side-plots. The whole movie hinges on a series of mysterious events in the village that lead to death, humiliation and shenanigans.
The mystery aspect of the plot certainly got me interested in the movie, with someone secretly causing bad things to happen, starting with the tripping of a horse using fine wire. The children of the movie appear to be connected somehow, but we don’t know how, and there’s definitely a certain Children Of The Corn vibe to them throughout. It was a promising start.
The problem is, there are about five movies going on at once here. We open the movie on this seemingly central “who’s causing this madness?” plot, but then this plot gets swiftly dropped and we’re just following the villagers around. This is most noticeable when the schoolteacher starts to pursue Eva and we leave the village entirely for an extended period of time so the teacher can be chastised by Eva’s father.
Things don’t get much better back in the village. Much is made of the cruel baron and the doctor being a complete bastard, but they feel so distant to the rest of the movie it makes me wonder why anyone even bothered to write these scenes. What’s more, the bombshell of the doctor’s rather awful night-time habit is dropped and then never elaborated on or explored or questioned. There he is, doing this bad thing he shouldn’t be doing, and that’s it. Also, the scenes where he openly declares his disdain for his wife’s lack of attractiveness in her “old age” cement him as an immensely unlikeable character that I want no more to do with.
The pastor’s storyline kind of fits, but it stills suffers from feeling too distant and vague. At times these scenes can get completely ridiculous, such as him tying up his son’s hands to try and stop him masturbating. The pastor seems more like a caricature of a hyper-religious nut as opposed to a real character, and I found it hard to connect with his story either.
In fact, I found it impossible to connect with any part of this movie. The mysteries that open the movie initially get me interested, but their sudden disappearance frustrates me and by the time the film ends, I’ve forgotten what was so mysterious and I forget the answers given, if any at all.
And that’s very much the problem with The White Ribbon. It struggles so much to stick to a single coherent plot thread that the viewer struggles to keep up, and as such the entire film becomes a forgettable mess of dullness.
So no, this didn’t live up to the standards set by Funny Games. Sadly.
Starring Christian Friedel, Ulrich Tukur & Josef Bierbichler
Written by Michael Haneke
Produced by Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz, Margaret Menegoz & Andrea Occhipinti
Cinematography by Christian Berger
Edited by Monika Willi
Favourite Scene: The general Children Of The Corn vibe, and if they’d stuck with this, I’d have enjoyed the movie more.
Scene That Bugged Me: Why don’t you tell your wife how you really feel, Mr Doctor Man?
Watch it if: You like confused German movies
Avoid it if: You’re looking for a mystery involving creepy children