Saturday, February 13, 2010

Michael Haneke's black-and-white film "The White Ribbon": a preview of Nazism, and a true horror film


Michael Haneke’s black-and-white film “The White Ribbon” (“Das weisse Band: eine deutsche Kindergeschichte”) held on to me like a Stephen King horror film (I can’t wait for “Under The Dome” to be made), with a little M. Night Shaymalan thrown in (remember “The Village”?)

Starting in the summer of 1913 in a rural village in north Germany, bizarre accidents or sabotage incidents, resulting in maimings and deaths, start to happen. The story is narrated from years later by a man who was a 31-year-old teacher at the time (a most likeable Christian Friedel; narrator voice is Ernst Jacobi). In the opening scene, a doctor is riding a horse that is tripped by a razor wire leading to his garden. Other accidents involve a sawmill, a bird, and later a graphic blinding of a retarded boy.

The village seems like a remnant of feudalism, with a baron (Ulrich Tukur), but the man in control is a pastor (Burghart Klaussner), who disciplines the kids, ordering one boy tied to his bed while he sleeps to keep him “pure” (and he has to wear the “white ribbon” as a pledge). There is a hidden suggestion that the pastor may be abusing the kids (the boys) in other ways, and gradually the Teacher becomes suspicious that the kids may be setting up the traps. Then, suddenly, the Village learns about the events in the Balkans about to lead to World War I.

The bw cinematography is crisp, and brings out the basics of village life in post-feudal Europe, and the incidents build upon the technology and communal way of life of the times. It’s not too much to suggest that the kids went on to be the core of Nazi leadership a quarter century later.

The film is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, official site here. It is in crisp German with subtitles, but the production companies included outfits in France, Italy and the UK as well as Germany. German is the easiest language for me without subtitles. The production included outfits in France, Italy, and the UK as well as Germany.



I did identify with The Teacher, and when I was subbing, there were a couple of instances ofd very troubling student conduct that borders on areas covered by this film. Like me, this teacher sometimes had trouble with discipline, although he is assertive in questioning the students and gumshoeing the investigation at the end.

The crowd at the AMC Shirlington Saturday night was moderate, given the snow. AMC needs to make coffee available at all shows, since it no longer allows take-ins from the nearby Caribou Coffee.

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