Dying to see just the kind of movie that makes people hate foreign film? Then The White Ribbon is the flick you’ve been hoping for. It’s long (more than 2 and a half hours), it’s filmed in black-and-white, it’s about nothing and, if that’s not enough, it’s in German.
Supposedly this lengthy story will explain why World War I happened. But, like it’s old man narrator, it comes off like a crazy old man telling a pointless story.
Not to say that story isn’t thorough. We get to know the dysfunction what seems like every single resident of a small German town. From the pastor who ties his son’s hands to the bed at night to keep him from masturbating (and dying!) to the angry son of a woman killed in an accident, to an abusive doctor — who not only verbally assaults his lover but sexually assaults his daughter — to, well, you get the point. That is, if the point of this movie is that World War I happened because Germans are awful people.
You’re probably asking yourself, is everyone in the movie terrible. No. The school teacher is a bumbling idiot, his fiance has no personality and is simply kinda weepy. Only the doctor’s son, Rudi (the adorable little boy with the bird pictured), seems to have an sense of decency or sweetness. Clearly that will be destroyed when he is old enough to see what miserable assholes surround him.
What plot there is become so muddled in the details of individual lives that it ceases to matter.
That the film is slow is certainly characteristic of Haneke’s work, but his other films, Benny’s Video, Caché and Funny Games, have one important thing The White Ribbon does not: those films create a paranoia in the audience members though their shocking and out of the blue acts of violence. Knocking a guy off a horse or describing the torture of a child without showing it doesn’t hold the same impact as the filming of a murder or the smiling tormenting of two psychotic preppies (by the way, Haneke’s own remake of Funny Games should be ignored when thinking of his great work. That film is so bad it could use several hundred words of criticism of its own).
Benny’s Video found a murderous teenager’s crime covered up by his parents. The White Ribbon has bad children beaten for what seems like a minor indiscretion and forced to wear ribbons to remind them of purity until their father trusts them again. When it comes to light that they may have committed a serious set of crimes the parent simply throws the blame back at the accuser and ignores the situation.
What should be ignored is Haneke’s downward decline. His earlier work is frightening and sticks with a viewer. His recent has no impact at all.