Monday, February 22, 2010

THE WHITE RIBBON (DAS WEISSE BAND) (2009)

Written & Directed by Michael Haneke



Where & When: Laemmle Pasadena Playhouse 7, Pasadena, CA. February 5, 2010 1:20PM




Michael Haneke, the controversial Austrian filmmaker of such acclaimed and provocative films such as "The Piano Teacher" (2002), "Cache" (2005) and the brutal and ugly American remake of his own original German film, "Funny Games" (2008) has made a haunting and beautiful film that has been selected as one of the five films competing for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Academy Awards.


"The White Ribbon" is set in a small village in Germany. The school teacher of the town, who is now an old man is recalling the strange series of events that occurred there shortly before the beginning of World War I. It begins one day as a doctor is returning home on a horse, when they come across a thin, invisible wire tied between two trees. It causes them to have a terrible fall which breaks the horse's leg and the doctor's collar bone. Later, when the police are investigating, just as mysteriously as it first appeared, they find that the wire has disappeared and no one saw anyone remove it.

The town's midwife helps to take care of the doctor's children as well as her own son who has Down's syndrome. She and the doctor are discretely having an affair which began shortly after his wife passed away. She senses that he is drifting away from her but she will settle for whatever he is willing to give her.

A farmer's wife falls to her death at the sawmill when rotting wood gives way. The farmer's son blames the Baron, who owns the mill, for his mother's death and destroys his cabbage field as revenge. The farmer, still grieving, is humiliated by his son's actions and fears he will lose his job because of it. The Baron employs most of the people in the village. The farmer knows that there are no other employment opportunities for him or his son and this will cause an extreme hardship for the rest of the family. The farmer commits a desperate act which devastates his family.

A few days later, the Baron's young son vanishes and the entire village searches for him. He is later found that day, still alive but bound to a tree and severely beaten. Later, the barn at the Baron's manor burns down. People are questioned but there are no clues to who may have done these acts.

The school teacher is attracted to the nanny of the Baron's son. She is dismissed from her job because the Baron's wife feels that her son would never have been hurt if she had been properly watching him. The nanny is distraught and ashamed to go back to her family. The teacher offers to take her back home and help her explain what happened. He offers to marry the girl but her father tells the teacher to wait a year because he feels she is too young to be married.

The pastor is very strict man and he demands that his family obey and follow his rules, no matter how small or petty. When his two children come home late for dinner, he decides that no one in the family will get to eat because everyone was so worried that they no longer have an appetite. He then forces the two to wear a white ribbon tied to their arms to remind them of the innocence and purity from which he feels they have strayed from.

The midwife's son is beaten and almost blinded. Later, she comes to the school teacher in a panic, needing to borrow his bicycle and go to the police. She says she knows who harmed her son and must report it. The midwife never returns and her son has vanished.

The school teacher has come to a growing conclusion of who the people are that are somehow responsible for some of the mysterious events and actually terrifying the people of this village. In the present day, he considers whether these events are connected to the atrocities that later occurred in Germany in the the next World War. Had the ideas that you should shun those with different beliefs, dominate those that are weaker and that violence will solve all conflict been instilled in the children and put to the test when they became adults? It is a fascinating idea but it is told in a way that leaves open other possibilities.

This film, actually shot in color but transferred into glorious black and white, was shot by Christian Berger, which is the film's other well deserved Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. He creates unusual shots that helps adds to the eerie mood and the bleak atmosphere. The cast, made up of mostly unprofessional actors, are quite exceptional. Mr. Haneke has made another thought provoking but dark and disturbing film which is his trademark but this time the film is a little easier for a general audience to take in and appreciate. "The Whire Ribbon" is a masterful work that will challenge you and I think is one of Mr. Haneke's finest films to date.