Monday, February 28, 2011

The White Ribbon

Directed by Michael Haneke.
2009. Rated R, 144 minutes, German.
Christian Friedel
Ernst Jacobi
Leonie Benesch
Ulrich Tukur
Ursina Lardi
Fion Mutert
Michael Kranz
Burghart Klaussner
Maria-Victoria Dragus
Leonard Proxauf

The village doctor has a serious accident on his way home, one day. Someone used a very strong, thin and barely visible wire tied between two trees to trip the horse he was riding on. Yes, I said horse. Our movie begins about 1916, if my math is right. We’re not explicitly told. Anyhoo, the doc breaks his collarbone and is off to the nearest hospital and out of sight for roughly half the movie. This is first in a series of bizarre occurrences in the village. For most of these events, the culprit is unknown. Whodunit becomes the question that dominates the landscape.

Between the strange, heinous crimes, we get to know the villagers. The local school teacher serves as our narrator. In true early 20th century fashion, he’s courting a 17 year old girl with intentions to marry her. There is the rich baron who employs half the town. No one in town really likes him, but hey, he’s the boss. We have the poor family who lost their matriarch to a work accident. Since she worked for the baron, some of them blame him for her demise. The doctor’s next door neighbor takes care of his kids while he’s in the hospital. There’s more to her than that, but I don’t want to spoil it. The town reverend is a crusty Old Testament type who doles out punishment to his children in biblical proportions for their indiscretions.

Speaking of punishment, it is at the center of all things in TWR. There is always some act or another deemed worthy of penalty. Those penalties include lashings, mandatory ribbon wearing, being tied up every night and termination from employment, to name a few. The victims of the seemingly random crimes appear to be being punished, too. For what, isn’t always clear. As who is responsible comes into focus, it raises other questions.

When the end credits begin to roll, an entire way of life has been put on trial. Are the various methods of punishment effective or excessive? Are the misdeeds real or perceived? Is Christianity, or religion in general, too rigid? How does all this effect the children? There is much to discuss.

Aside from the questions it raises, the movie itselfe is an intriguing mystery. It is also packed with family drama revealing various levels of dysfunction within the families of the village. However, it is also slow. Most, if not all of the punishing takes place off-screen. We merely watch them talk about it, and they speak very calmly. Though the dialogue they deliver while almost never raising their voices is exceptionally written, I can see this being a difficult watch for many.

No comments:

Post a Comment