The White Ribbon is Michael Hanekes first German-language film since the original Funny Games (1997) and its his best ever. A period piece set on the eve of World War I in an echt Protestant, still-feudal village somewhere in the uptight depths of Northern Germany, The White Ribbon is as cold and creepy and secretly cheesy as any of Hanekes earlier films, if not quite as lofty. Instead of sermonizing, Haneke sets himself to honest craftsmanship. The White Ribbons original title identifies the movie as A German Childrens Story and, recounted by the village school teacher 40 or 50 years later, this dark fable has a mock legendary aspect. The tale may not reflect the truth in every detail, the elderly narrator announces. Many questions are unanswerable, he admits, and yet the strange events that occurred in our village . . . may cast a new light on some of the goings-on in this country. No need to speculate on what those goings-on might be. The first strange event occurs seconds into the action when the irascible village doctor is thrown by his horse. Thereafter, this quiet town, nestled into peaceful landscape yet seething with hidden resentments, is subjected to an escalating series of inexplicable accidents and unsolved incidents of terror, most of which are discussed but never shown. Hanekes use of narrative uncertainty may be standard-issue, but theres no denying The White Ribbons seriousness. The severe, withholding culture that Haneke critiques is precisely mirrored by his methods.
Jan. 15-21, 2010