The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

My favourite Haneke so far

with 12 comments

Strange things occur in a small village in Germany in 1913, right before the outbreak of World War I. A doctor gets injured in a riding accident that isn’t just an accident. A woman falls to her death. Children get abducted and abused. The deeds are random and cruel. Who is causing them? And what else is going on under the tidy surface? Piece by piece we’re putting together a puzzle through the eyes of the schoolteacher who is looking back on those events from a future perspective. This is the story of The White Ribbon.

The roots of evil
I’ve seen some reviewers claiming that this film should be seen as an attempt to explain where Germany was coming from, to show the soil where the Nazi movement later could spawn and flourish.

And I could see how you could make such an interpretation, but I also think that the movie works fine without the historical context as a study in the dark sides if the human nature.

People do bad things. Sometimes the abusers have been victims of abuse in the past and are so damaged by it that they’ll transfer it to the next generation. Sometimes you can relate it to the environment. People are governed by a political or religious system that has twisted their inner ethical compass. And then there is the third kind of evil, the one for which we lack good explanations. Like Kevin-evil. The village in The White Ribbon contains all forms of evil. With very few exceptions, it’s rotten to the core.

This movie was truly uncomfortable to watch, not to say harrowing, which might sound a little strange considering that it’s a very neat movie, if dark, shot in black and white, not containing much of gore or explicit scene. But there is a certain kind of creepiness that doesn’t require blood to be tangible – the same way as an abundance of blood isn’t a guarantee for a creepy movie (as I wrote about in a previous review of Suspiria).

If you’ve seen some of Ingmar Bergman’s darker movies, you’re probably familiar with this category of discomfort. Do you remember the horrible priest in Fanny & Alexander? He could definitely qualify as a villager in The White Ribbon. The difference is that there’s not just one of him, but several – some of them even worse.

Strange pacing
For how uncomfortable it was to watch, I really enjoyed The White Ribbon. The pacing is a little weird; sometimes the movie gets very, very slow, lingering in a shot of something that doesn’t move until you wonder if the DVD has gotten stuck or something. Sometimes the voice-over narrative gets into a quick speed mode and you need to pay attention to keep up with the development. But somehow the mystery kept me interested all the way through, even through the slower parts.

This is the second movie by the Austrian director Michael Haneke I watch and definitely my favorite one. While Benny’s Video felt a bit simplistic in its theme where a boy did terrible things after watching too much TV, The White Ribbon is less obvious and way more intriguing.

I don’t know exactly what happened in that village. But I’m still thinking about it, almost two weeks after watching it and I take that as a sign of quality.

The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte, Michael Haneke DE/AT 2009) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

February 24, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in The White Ribbon

12 Responses

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  1. Sorry, I really think this is such an over rated film and that “rise of the nazis allegory” is extremely theoretical and tacked on. I found it be incredibly boring almost to the point that it got drowsy.

    I’m a huge fan of Haneke but I’ve got to say that he has unfortunately gotten worse with the years. I’m a huge fan of the Austrian version of Funny Games and Code Unknown is also a very fulfilling film.

    I have had a harder time with his recent films though I’ve to say that the White Ribbon was a step away from his typical meta approach to film and that I can appreciate.

    Joel Burman

    February 24, 2012 at 1:29 am

    • Hehe I knew you didn’t like it very much. And I know Fiffi didn’t either, judging from her review. A lot of negative views in the comments to her posts as well. We’ll really have a lot fo fight over at our next meetup! I find myself in the opposite corner of my fellow Swedish bloggers over and over again… But that’s what makes blogging fun, isn’t it?


      February 24, 2012 at 7:57 am

      • I look forward to “the clash of the titans” debate between you and her on War Horse hahaha. I saw it yesterday and thought it was okay but neither horrible or a masterpiece just an an average ok film.

        Joel Burman

        February 24, 2012 at 8:34 am

        • Hehe. I’ve never said it was a masterpiece. But it’s definitely not a bad movie and even a good movie provided you’re in the right mood. I’ll be talking more about it on the nest LAMBcast. Just to annoy Fiffi. 😉


          February 24, 2012 at 8:44 am

  2. This is my 2nd favorite Haneke film behind The Piano Teacher. It fucked me up considering all of the evil things that were happening and all of the mysteries that happened. It’s a gorgeous film and I actually liked the pacing because it took its time to really play out what is going on.

    Steven Flores

    February 24, 2012 at 1:43 am

    • Yes, the pacing was weird, but I didn’t dislike it. It felt like a piece of classical music. Sometimes very slow, sometimes more intense.


      February 24, 2012 at 7:58 am

  3. I´ve only seen a couple of movies of Haneke but this one i liked. Story, photo and pacing was perfect but i can understad if one finds it boring.


    February 26, 2012 at 11:41 am

    • People take movies so different. I was really sucked into this story and didn’t find it boring at all. I didn’t even feel inclined to sleep, which is odd considering that it IS in black and white and pretty slow. But somehow I was engaged enough to compensate for it.


      February 26, 2012 at 1:28 pm

  4. You haven’t seen “Funny Games” yet but it doesn’t matter if you watch the European or the U.S. version – it works exactly the same in both, the cultural context doesn’t matter. (I couldn’t make it through the full movie the first time I watched it, I left cinema early.)

    “Das weiße Band” is a movie about structural, hierarchical violence. The violence runs with and against the hierarchy. Violence, abuse, exploitation are hardly unique for Germany, that epoch and that location. Some settings are unique. The movie takes place in rural Prussia, Ostelbien (the wide plains east of river Elbe). That area was special even in Germany for its society: great land owners (Junker), no small but free farmers, strong hierarchy in every regard, strict protestantism. Serfdom in that area ended just 1850! With the freed people completely dependent on the one land owner, which is even topic of the movie, so not much real freedom afterwards. The communist GDR took this society as main antagonist in its propaganda for good reason. Structures in e.g. southwest Germany looked completely different.

    So while the main topic of the movie is universal, the setting is local. The setting could be changed, but not easily. Dependency there was complete, in every regard. There was next to no escape, the “Obrigkeit” (authority) was one, no real checks and balances. It included the doctor, the pastor, the police, the baron as land owner and only employer, even the family (the teacher stands out a little in this movie, he is young and not completely integrated but shows the first signs of it). So it is not easy to transfer the setting as a whole to an arbitrary other setting.

    I honestly think that the historical setting is a selling point. It is legitimate to investigate the reasons that lead to Germany’s violent excesses in the 20. century. While the violent structures that are shown in this movie may be a reason or even the main reason I don’t think it is the goal of this movie to show this. This setting helped the movie to gain attention. Not to be misunderstood: I don’t think the setting was choosen just for this reason. The mechanics of that society are still known so it is a good setting that doesn’t need too much introduction.


    February 26, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    • Thank you for this historical background! It’s an interesting read for sure! I still think that while there IS a historical truth in them, it’s also about bad things people do. Like murderer on entire populations didn’t just happen at Holocost, but in other places in other times, this film deals with something that is lurking in our nature I think, that can pop up in various ways.

      I haven’t seen Funny Games. I hope I can make through it considering your reaction…


      February 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

  5. As I am a huge Haneke fan, I’m glad to hear you’ve seen this and liked it. It’s my fourth favourite Haneke (CACHE at #3, CODE UNKNOWN at #2 and THE PIANO TEACHER at #1) and it is certainly a great period drama film, if you could call it that. I am looking forward to Haneke’s next film, AMOUR, which is coming out this year and will star Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant!


    February 27, 2012 at 12:06 am

    • I need to check out more by him. He really seems like an interesting director. I was going to see The Piano Teacher, but unfortunately it turned out that the copy I had borrowed from my library was defect.


      February 27, 2012 at 6:59 am

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