(For SI blog reader unknownvirus)
At last, we watched The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band), a movie we’d been planning on seeing for several weeks but could manage only this past Sunday in Philadelphia.
By now, the chattering classes must surely have heard of this German film, which won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2009 and raised Austrian director Michael Haneke’s status further, an elevation the respected director was in no need of given the pedigree of his work.
Of course, here at the SI blog we’re no strangers to Michael Haneke, whose 2001 film The Piano Teacher we watched to great delight eight months back.
A grim un-Avatarish black and white film set in a North German village Eichwald a year before the start of that first Great War, The White Ribbon is a disturbing movie about disturbing happenings that disturb the lives of people in the seemingly placid rural surroundings.
As with most things in life what is is seldom what it appears as.
And so it is in our village too.
You see, beneath the calm waters of everyday life in the village run swift undercurrents of violence.
A violence that sometimes assumes the form of physical attacks and at other times takes non-physical forms but is no less crushing in its cruelty.
Events in the movie are narrated several decades after they happened by a school teacher, who lived in the village during those years.
In those pre-war years, the vestiges of feudalism are still remnant in the area and most villagers depend on the local Baron not merely for their employment but for their very survival (as subsequent events show in the case of one of the farmers).
A series of violent disturbing incidents starting with an attack on the doctor when he’s riding his horse unsettles the rhythm of the village.
The first incident is followed by others including two horrendous, chilling attacks on young boys, a fire, an ‘accidental’ death and a suicide and ultimately World War I.
But these are only attacks on the body. On the outside as it were, literally and figuratively.
Other cruel attacks occur behind closed doors and strike against the soul of some unfortunate individuals, both young and old.
A widower is molesting his young, 17-year-old daughter.
And a respected man of the village ends an affair with his mistress in the most cruel fashion after receiving a hand-job from her:
After Julie’s death, I wanted to ease my pain with anyone. I could have screwed a cow. Whores are too far for me, and once every two months isn’t enough for me….So skip acting like a martyr and scram.
And like a voyeur in a trance, we watch this chilling cast of perpetrators and victims.
While we know the folks behind the non-physical attacks, the persons responsible for the violent physical attacks remain a mystery.
Is it the grownups, the children, the farmer’s son?
Are the non-physical attacks within the home triggering the physical attacks outside the home?
Of course, the movie offers some clues suggestions to the physical attacks but still we can never be sure.
And director Haneke mercilessly leaves us hanging dry. Hey, this is not the clean ending of Karan Johar or Rajkumar Hirani movies.
Many have seen – and extrapolated – the violence in the Eichwald village of White Ribbon as a precursor to the destructive violence in German society that unleashed two cataclysmic wars and millions of deaths in the last century.
The violence in the small setting of the family making its way to violence in the society at large.
The harsh punishments at home morphing into terrorism outside the home.
Possible? Hey, who knows.
The White Ribbon is not a movie for those seeking definitive answers. In any case, very often in life answers to questions or reasons for events are never clear and remain shrouded in a mist for ever.
Oh no, the entire movie is not a grim affair.
The school teacher’s love for the nanny in the Baron’s household marks a delightful break in the unsettling events.
And even amidst the overwhelming dark forces, there are those rare moments of light, the oasis of good elements as in the pastor’s young boy with the little bird.
The acting is top notch, of both the adults and children, and the photography extremely pleasing.
A lot of the movie is filmed indoor in dim lighting but so artfully done that you marvel at it.
Never has black and white seemed so infused with life, with the color of life.
Director Michael Haneke is a master craftsman, the likes of whom you don’t encounter often.
Besides the Palme d’Or, The White Ribbon also won the 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Of course, it’s one of the five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film for the upcoming 82nd Academy Awards a.k.a. Oscars.
Are your surprised? We’re not.
It’s highly unlikely any of ye schmucks will want to or ever watch The White Ribbon. But perchance should you wish to, the film is playing at Ritz 5 in Philadelphia and possibly elsewhere in the U.S.
And just in case you are curious, the white ribbon of the title is a symbol of innocence or purity and what the pastor ties on his son Martin and daughter Klara for their unacceptable behavior.