Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon)
Starring Christian Friedel, Ulrich Tukur, Burghart Klauβner, Leonie Benesch, Susanne Lothar
Rated R; German w/ English subtitles
coming soon to the Esquire Theatre
Michael Haneke likes to scare people, but he's much more covert about it than your typical horror film director. He spooks and thrills more with what you don't see than what you do see, and he has a lot to say about the miserable state of society in general. (Check out his previous films--Cache and Funny Games, which is an American remake of his own German version--for proof of that.) Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon), his latest film as well as the favorite to win the best foreign language film Oscar this year, is no exception. The power of suggestion and the implications of what are happening off-screen are more chilling than a number of horror/thriller films I've seen in years past.
The film takes place in a small German village between 1913 and 1914, just before the start of World War I, and is run primarily by a rich Baron (Tukur), who employs the majority of the villagers. The Protestant community seems almost Puritanical in its harsh practices and viewpoints on life, thanks to its strict and unforgiving pastor (Klauβner). The stifling atmosphere is a breeding ground for scorn, contempt, and cruelty among many of the children, some of whom appear to be involved in several strange and increasingly violent incidents in the village. As the mystery escalates, one begins to wonder if the children are merely a product of their environment and an ominous, indirect warning of what's to come in terms war and fascism.
The cinematography is utterly brilliant. The camera does not follow the characters but rather forces them to enter and exit still shots. This presents numerous opportunities for incidents to occur off-camera, and at times, behind closed doors. The movie is filmed in what can only be described as almost stark black and white, and the extreme dark versus light contrasts lend themselves perfectly to the rigid, unrelenting nature of the community. The overall visual effects work flawlessly in conjunction with the superb performances of the cast, particularly those of the child actors. The film definitely leaves the audience wondering in terms of "whodunnit," but that becomes secondary to its commentary on what a sterile, unloving environment can produce.