DVD Review: ‘The White Ribbon’ a film milestone in waitingWhile imitating a classic, Michael Haneke’s new-to-DVD “The White Ribbon” may likely be one.
By: Robert Herling, Budgeteer News
At first, the look and feel of Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke’s award-winning film “The White Ribbon” seems similar to the 1962 film adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Both are in black and white; both involve a small community unsettled by a violent mystery; and both contrast adorable children with a cruel world.
But Haneke’s film is a foreign film made in 2009, set in northern German before its pair of world wars, not a 1960s film set in the American South moving away from its history of slavery. Eventually, too, it turns out to be almost antithetical to the spirit of that more-uplifting story penned by Harper Lee.
The white ribbon is an explicit symbol for innocence in the film. The village’s pastor is heard explaining this more than once, even promising to tie a couple onto his wayward children. Yet, oddly enough, no such a ribbons are ever visible. And, more to this point, nearly every character in the story is shown in some way that ambiguously suggests they’ve probably at least been contemplating moral compromise. The sense of uncertainty and suspicion this weaves through the film creates a strange veil in front of a series of heinous acts that plague the village, and for which no one seems capable of identifying the perpetrator(s).
The avoidance of answers in “The White Ribbon” does nothing to relax viewers trying to take in a foreign-language film, but this goes hand in hand with the creepiness of the story itself. In fact, the black-and-white footage and the occasional long and uncomfortable shots (so atypical of modern movies) end up feeling somehow very appropriate for the telling of this bleak tale. And, because of all its oddity, it becomes one of those films that lingers with you for days after … you find yourself thinking about its events and characters, replaying conversations over in your head, wondering how many clues you might have missed and asking if anything meant anything.
As dreary and existential as “The White Ribbon” might be, it is an undeniably impressive work of cinema. With such striking methods of conveying mystery and intrigue, it’s hard to imagine that a film so complex and cerebral won’t soon find its way into college film courses, to be discussed along with classics of a similar ilk — maybe not “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but definitely Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” or Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal.”
Learn more about this film at www.sonyclassics.com/thewhiteribbon.
Reach Duluth-based film critic Robert Herling by clicking on his byline above.