The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte) (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
June 21, 2010 by Dennis Amith
There is no doubt about it. This is a chilling film but it is also a well-written, well-shot and well-performed, for the most part, “The White Ribbon” is definitely a Michael Haneke masterpiece. Highly recommended!
Images courtesy of © 2009 X Filme Creative Pool, Wega Film, Les Films du Losange, Lucky Red, ARD Degeto, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Osterreichischer Rundfunk Fernsehen and France 3 Cinema. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte)
YEAR OF FILM RELEASE: 2009
DURATION: 144 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), English, 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English Narration, German Dialog Subbed in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: R (For Some Disturbing Content Revolving Violence and Sexuality)
RELEASE DATE: June 29, 2010
Written and Directed by Michael Haneke
Executive Producer: Michael Katz
Producer: Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz, Margaret Menegoz, Andrea Occhipinti
Cinematography by Christian Berger
Film Editing by Monika Willi
Casting by Simone Bar, Carmen Loley, Markus Schleinzer
Production Design by Christoph Kanter
Art Direction by Anja Muller
Set Decoration by Heike Wolf
Costume Design by Moidele Bickel
Christian Friedel as the School Teacher
Ernst Jacobi as the School Teacher (Older Version)
Leonie Benesch as Eva
Ulrich Tukur as The Baron
Ursina Lardi as the Baroness
Fion Mutert as Sigi
Michael Kranz as the Tutor
Burghart Klaußner as The Pastor
Steffi Kuhnert as The PAstor’s Wife
Maria-Victoria Dragus as Klara
Leonard Proxauf as Martin
Levin Henning as Adolf
Johanna Busse as Margarete
Thibault Serie as Gustav
Josef Bierbichler as The Steward
Gabriela Maria Schmeide as the Steward’s Wife
Janina Fautz as Ema
On the eve of World War I, strange accidents in a small Protestant village in Northern Germany involve the children and teenagers of a choir run by the schoolteacher and their families. The abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of this mystery as these events gradually take on the character of a punishment ritual.
Austrian Director Michael Haneke is one of cinema’s most revered and also most reviled with films that are typically bleak or disturbing, nerve-rattling and shocking.
From his first major film “The Seventh Continent” of modern alienation to his next film “Benny’s Video” about a 14-year-old who is fascinated by watching violent acts via playback on video, his shocking “Funny Games” (which was remade in the US) to the titillating 2002 film “The Piano Teacher” which won three major awards at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival comes his award winning film “The White Ribbon”.
Known as “Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte”, “The White Ribbon” is a black and white film which premiered at the 62nd Cannes International Film Festival in 2009 and won the highly covered Palme d’Or and also the 2010 Golden Globe Award for “Best Foreign Language Film” and also nominated for an Academy Award.
“The White Ribbon” is a film that has been in development for more than a decade and Haneke has said of the film as about “the origin of every type of terrorism, be it of political or religious nature”. Haneke said it best when he described the film as children following the idealism of their parent’s generation but followed it blindly. That when you follow idealism blindly, they become inhuman and that this is the root of every form of terrorism.
The film is narrated by a former school teacher who discusses a time in his life when he was much younger and a school teacher in a Protestant village in Germany before World War I.
In this village, the men who rule the village is the pastor, the doctor and the baron. And we get a sense of the oppression, the apathy, the tension that has run strong within this village for a long time.
The Baron is the employer of the village. He employs over half of the men and women in the village and he is quite apathetic to their needs and cares more about them making sure the crops planted or pick and maintained. Many of the villagers despise him but because of his power as an employer, they respect him and dare not go against him.
The pastor runs his home with an iron fist and has his sense of teaching religion but is so ultra-conservative that he is often disgusted when his older daughter and son take part in situations that upset him. From his two eldest children being late for dinner, the whole family is punished and are not fed and in return, the two are punished by whip.
But there is a sense of uneasy with these two children. A brooding sense that they are rebellious and do not care about the same religious teachings of their father. With the whole village raised with such a strict protestant teaching, the two act out against their father and know their will be a severe punishment.
The doctor is a man who seems so genuine and caring to the public. He is the first person that was targeted in a number of unusual situations in the village as someone put a wire on two trees, tripping the doctor’s horse and injuring the doctor (breaking a few of his bones).
Aside from being the village doctor, he is also a widow who is having an affair with the village midwife. To put it bluntly, the doctor is a man who has sexual needs and the midwife who he detests fits those needs. He belittles her and talks badly to her even though he goes to her for sex and yet she still cares for him. But the doctor has his own dark secrets that no one is aware of.
But unusual things start happening in the village. First the doctor’s injury from the hidden wire, then the death of a farmer’s wife, missing children found beaten, a burning barn and other unusual and awful situations committed in the village.
And because it is a small village, how can terrible acts be committed on innocent people? How can ideology gone wrong change a person’s outlook in life and how would one rebel against it in a closed society?
“The White Ribbon” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1) and is in black and white. I’ve read before watching the film that “The White Ribbon” was shot in color with the color removed but for the most part, blacks are nice and deep and there is a nice contrast with grays and whites really popping out. I was very impressed with the cinematography by Christian Berger, capturing the variety of emotions in the film. You get the sense through the production and costume design that this film is a classic film when actually it was filmed in 2009.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The White Ribbon” is presented in German 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English Narration, German Dialog subbed in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The film is dialogue driven and is not a film that really sports any sound effects or any major action scenes. The film is primarily center and front channel driven with the dialogue being crystal clear and understandable (if you understand German) and there are sequences with crowd ambiance and a scene when you can hear a scythe cutting through cabbages.
As for subtitles, the film is presented in English and English SDH.
“The White Ribbon” comes with the following special features (in standard definition, audio is in French and German stereo with English subtitles):
Making of the White Ribbon – (38:40) A featurette about the making of “The White Ribbon” and showcasing director Michael Haneke’s arrival to the Cannes Film Festival.
- my life – (50:09) A documentary on director Michael Haneke featuring interviews with family, friends and talent who have worked with him in his previous films and also footage of the behind-the-scenes post production work on “The White Ribbon”.
- Cannes film festival premiere – (18:36) – Featuring the premiere at Cannes International Film Festival. From the red carpet to the Q&A panel and the film winning the Palme d’Or.
- an interview with Michael Haneke – (14:08) Director Michael Haneke talks about how “The White Ribbon” came about, what he wanted to accomplish with the film and why it was shot in black and white with narration.
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:21) The original theatrical trailer.
- Previews – Previews for upcoming Sony Pictures Classics releases.
“The White Ribbon” is a film that has the touch of a classic film and also probably in director Michael Haneke’s oeuvre, a true masterpiece. Haneke knows how to make the audience feel uncomfortable and its the point of the film to open the viewer’s eyes of idealism shattered and radicalism, extremism breeding and eventually planting the seeds to terrorism.
The film is literally a look at society within a small village during the early 20th century. Old customs, old idealism and a time where leadership revolved around an employer, its pastor and a doctor. But as these three characters are a big part of “The White Ribbon”, the film is about the oppression and idealism that children must follow and there is no one wanting to rise against the main leadership in the village.
In the Baron’s case, we get to see the children wanting to act on impulse against the Baron. As he represents the rich who is oppressing the poor, none of the adults are willing to stand up. There is no union representing employees, there is no voice amongst the villagers and the children can’t understand why things are the way they are. They just see this rich family, a selfish Baron and his wife and their many employees and young son who gets everything he wants and is nothing like them.
The Baron and his family are the most privileged people in the village. They are rich and aren’t afraid to flaunt their riches and the adults respect that position in power and no matter how much work they have to do, it’s the way of the village. But for the children, some are growing tired of it and you have a sense that they have had enough of seeing their parents literally having to be bend over backwards for them.
The pastor is ultra-conservative and it’s one thing to have unruly children, but at his home, the pastor is incredibly strict and can easily be seen as the religious fanatic. His eldest daughter and son have a hint of trouble making personalities who don’t understand why certain things in life, they get punished for it. From being late, to one reaching puberty and discovering themselves, it’s all a sin according to their father and for them not displaying their innocence and purity, they are punished and forced to wear a white ribbon to remind them at all times that they must be pure and innocent.
The doctor who is well-respected in the village is obviously the person that is well-educated and as much as he is seen as a caring individual, in truth, he is demeaning and all that he has in his mind is sex. He uses his employee, the mid-wife as his sexual toy (even though he detests her) and his parenting as a father of a teenage daughter and young son is not so close. If anything, his preoccupation of sex is disturbing as we see him showing interest in his daughter.
The narrator, the teacher, is possibly the main shining light of the film. The narrator tells his story of when he was a 31-year-old man who has fallen for the Baroness’ nanny who tries to be there for the children and the viewer literally sees the story through his eyes.
Through this character, we see that he is just a normal man who enjoys teaching children and has no true connection to the village other than living there and teaching the children. The narration takes us out of those tense moments as he is focused on wanting to marry a young woman.
But the character is instrumental as giving the viewer information on what has taken place at the village but also his scenes is that breather to take us away from those tense moments that happen throughout the film. The story is told to us via his viewpoint and for the most part, a man who tries to see the good in people and has blinded him of what has been happening in the village.
And with these characters, one is left thinking…is this breakdown of idealism is what leads to radical thoughts. Ignorance, apathy, pessimism… Have the children of this village became amoral to anyone’s suffering? Is this their form of rebelling? There is no doubt that “The White Ribbon” is one of those films that will make one think.
The ensemble cast performances is what I found most impressive of “The White Ribbon”. Burghart Klaußner as the pastor is another well-done performance (since I last seen him on “The Edukators”) by the actor, Christian Friedel does a good job at playing the teacher and making us feel that maybe not all people in the village are messed up and the more I think about the film, I can literally list several names that caught my attention but I have to admit that the performances by the pastor’s elder children Klara (Maria-Victoria Dragus) and Martin (Leonard Proxauf) literally haunt you.
Klara definitely embodies mischief while Martin is a boy who is at his breaking point, always being punished and doesn’t know if he wants to be part of this life and wonders if God hates him and wants him to die. Again, there are so many well-done performances in this film, it’s well-cast and each character from the adults and the children really make us feel the pain that lingers around the village.
I’ve read how people perceived the film about fascism. Some viewers who felt that this was a film that is about how children became insensitive towards humanity and thus led to their roles in Nazi Germany. Director Michael Haneke said it best when he described the film as children following the idealism of their parent’s generation but followed it blindly. That when you follow idealism blindly, they become inhuman and that this is the root of every form of terrorism. Haneke wanted to show the breakdown of idealism and that this film could be shot in the UK, US or anywhere around the world and that blind idealism gone astray can happen anywhere and its happening now.
But there is no doubt that with the film shot in Germany, at the way their time period exists around the time Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo which eventually would lead to World War I in 1914 and that possibly, how these children were raised made them quite amoral in attitudes towards the death of others and their support for the Nazi regime. But I do understand Haneke’s explanation that the breakdown of idealism is not limited to Germany, this is something that can happen anywhere around the world.
Overall, “The White Ribbon” is one of those films that viewers may find to bleak and also may come out feeling no closure or happy ending. The fact is that if you are familiar with Haneke’s films, you shouldn’t be expecting a happy ending. And as far as bleakness is concerned, this is what Haneke is a master of. Knowing how to take repress, oppressed characters and showing how they can be inspired to do violent acts.
There is no doubt about it. This is a chilling film but it is also a well-written, well-shot and well-performed, for the most part, “The White Ribbon” is definitely a Michael Haneke masterpiece. The Blu-ray release comes with plenty of special features, especially those who want to know more about Haneke’s approach to film and his previous works. This is an impressive Blu-ray release! Overall, “The White Ribbon” is highly recommended!
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