25 Nov 2009

The White Ribbon

Michael Haneke, legendary Austrian director of such films as Hidden, Piano Teacher and Funny Games returns with his Palme d’Or winner The White Ribbon. Set in pre-first world war Germany, Haneke believes the film offers an insight into some of the seeds that had been laid prior to the countries notorious past.

The White Ribbon though is more than just a social study of pre-fascist Germany. It’s also one of the most effecting thrillers you’ll see all year. The audience is led willingly along through this two and a half hour ‘whodunnit’ amongst an abyss of mystery and subtle horror. The White Ribbon is indeed a film with a message, that gives no answers, but leaves you asking countless questions afterwards.

Haneke has filled his latest epic with all of his usual devices, a chilling score, magnificent actors and his trademark long stationary shots that draw you into the tension, and truly make you feel like you’ve stepped back to 1912 to witness the bizarre incidents that surround this north German village. Filmed in black and white, with impeccable sets and costumes, if it wasn’t for the narrator setting the scene you’d truly believe you’d stepped back in time with Mr Haneke, because this is surely the only way his film could look and feel any more realistic.

Set in a remote village in northern Germany, 1913, a placid yet almost invisibly dysfunctional society is suddenly plagued with some random acts of malice that at first seem coincidental, however soon escalate to a degree that they can no longer be ignored. Starting with a riding accident of the local doctor, it soon becomes apparent that this was no accident. We witness these events with added narration by the local school teacher (now an old man), perhaps the only unflawed and pure character we witness amongst the local populace, including the children who, as sweet as they first seem, all appear to have their own secrets. It’s through this impartial view that we are left to make our own minds up over who’s to blame for these events, and eventually ask ourselves further questions concerning the events that would happen soon after. Indeed the film ends with the announcement that Duke Ferdinand has been assassinated in Sarajevo.

Even though, by the end of the film, there is no solution to the mysterious events that occur, you’re left feeling like many other questions you may of had have been answered, as is the power of Haneke’s observational piece concerning this period of German history. A profoundly sinister riddle, that deserves all the acclaim it gained at Cannes, an instant classic.

Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Christian Friedel, Ernst Jacobi, Leonie Benesch, Burghart Klaussner,
Runtime: 144 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Patrick Gamble


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