Monday, February 1, 2010

The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band) (2009)

Director: Michael Haneke. Cast: Christian Friedel, Leonie Benesch, Burghart Klaußner. 144 min. Rated R. Austria/Germany/France/Italy. Drama.

I'm forming a love-hate relationship with Michael Haneke. I loved his Cache, hated his Funny Games, but The White Ribbon left me dumbfounded. The overlong black-and-white story of a small pre-WW I German village, actually gives a very clear picture of how WW II came to be. Unlike movies offering a cozy nostalgic feeling of some long lost good old days, this ultra-dark picture of a certain generation is extremely difficult to relate to - and nevertheless leaves you disturbed. Only for die-hard movie fans; but if you're one of them, at the end, you'll wake up in a daze.

Mo says:

Update: I have a habit of always reading reviews after I've seen a movie (and after writing my review!). I just read Roger Ebert's incredible interpretation of the movie, which although slightly undermines my above-mentioned Nazism theory of the movie, is ingeniously put:

"... It's too simple to say the film is about the origins of Nazism. If that were so, we would all be Nazis. It is possible to say that when the prevention of evil becomes more important than the preservation of freedom, authoritarianism grows. If we are to prevent evil, someone must be in charge. The job naturally goes to those concerned with enforcing order. Therefore, all disorder is evil and must be prevented, and that's how the interests of the state become more important than the interests of the people.

"I wonder if Haneke's point is that we grow so disturbed by danger that we will surrender freedom -- even demand to. Do we feel more secure in an orderly state? Many do. Then a tipping point arrives, and the Berlin Wall falls, or we see the Green Revolution in Iran. The problem, as philosophers have noted, is that revolutionaries grow obsessed with enforcing their revolution, and the whole process begins again."


  1. After the end title, honesty I was wonder what exactly movie meant to say and what is my feeling I like it or not ?! What I got is that :
    it shows how evil can form and develop in soul of human slowly and gradually under some psychopathic events like child abuse, neglected children, incest and all conflicts related to childhood and that could be the root of some terrible ideologies like Nazism or fascism or other sick-Over ambitions , racism, , extreme nationalism ,&….Right ?

    The movie had some impressive scenes like when a child brought the priest injured bird after he nursed it and back to health as a message of love … and some other dark and bit scenes like when Dr. & his nurse argue and insult each other along with revealing some disgusting facts by words. How dreadful !

  2. I thought the scene with the doctor insulting the nurse was the most intolerable of the entire movie. Watching that conversation unfold, and how the doctor was verbally abusing the lady, was almost unbearable.

    I read somewhere that Haneke has a degree in psychology. His films show that very well.

  3. Remember you recommended Cachê? I just watched it and I was wondering what you liked about it and how you compare it with The White Ribbon (TWR), specifically the so called vagueness of whodunit part. At the end of TWR, although I liked the movie a lot (as a matter of fact I was surprised I didn't notice that it was that long), I was mildly annoyed that I didn't get to know (definitively) who the culprit (or culprits) were. But I got the point that it didn't matter. On the other hand, at the end of Cachê, I was like WTF? I get the guilt and racial tension part but what was the point of those threats (assuming they came from Algerians)? And if the threats didn't come from them, how the tapes were related to the whole story? I was even thought that Haneke was trying to say that the father was hiding his guilt and these tapes were just a tipping point. But then at the end he basically buried his guilt again by trying to hide from it. I mean Haneke could pick any stressful situation for that, right? What's your take?

  4. And by the way, I disagree with Ebert that "we would all be Nazis", unless he had been truly raised in a similar environment which I highly doubt. He also ignores the fact that Germany (unlike US)went through devastating WWI and came out defeated and humiliated. The events of post WWI had great effect on creating a fertile ground for Fascism. I don't think Haneke was suggesting that events similar to what was shown in the movie were the only reasons for emergence of Nazism. But they could very well be a good starting point for creating a generation of repressed, joyless, and abused men and women looking to find a channel to release their hate and frustration into the world, especially after WWI and what happened to those said men and women in its aftermath).

  5. I think "Cache" is another of those movies where you should be more involved in the atmosphere, or the feeling, rather than the story. Imagine what's happening to the characters. They get proof that someone is "watching them". They're not criminals. They're ordinary people with ordinary dirty laundry. So they really don't have much burden of guilt. But the fact that someone is watching them is tearing their lives apart. Put yourself in their shoes. It can drive you nuts.

    I think "Cache" is showing that the feeling of "security" is completely an abstract concept of the human mind. There is no such material thing as security. It's just our own mental feeling of being secure, or insecure. You may feel secure in your home, with all your locks and bolts and gadgets to keep the danger outside, but as soon as someone or something undermines that feeling or mental picture of strength (by watching you), all those locks and bolts become useless. You're insecure. And "Cache" does miracles in illustrating that concept.

    I looked up Haneke's biography. He has a major in psychology. No wonder - all his movies I've seen so far deal with some aspect of the human psyche. I look at him as a Hitchcock - with a side of sadism.

    If you still have "Cache" available, watch the end credits. Two people are talking together in the background (at the school entrance) which supposedly should be completely unrelated. Very bizarre - but might help in the story aspect you're looking for.


    About your approach to "The White Ribbon", I can't disagree. I believe Ebert is looking into one root of Fascism, and you have other reasons in mind. I don't think your and Ebert's theories are mutually exclusive.

  6. I got that sense from Cache (idea of security or lack thereof) but how do you bind it in a meaningful manner to the rest of what's happening in the film? Haneke could go on with that line without ever bringing father's dark past in the equation. I actually noticed the conversation at the end of the movie. But it confuses me even more. What could they talk about? Their expression didn't convey a sense of drama or hint on one telling the other what his old man had done. Or maybe that was trying to show a sense of understanding among the younger generation? So how's that gonna help combining your line of thought with the the guilt of the dark past? And if you think they're unrelated and should be looked at separately from each other, why not just focus on "security" line without bothering with the racial tension, guilt, or whatever you want to call it?

    Or it was all to show that one is willing to go to great length (even further than one could have imagined) and cross a lot of ethical/moral/etc. lines to get one's sense of security back? But that still doesn't explain the end shot. Though it may make sense especially in the aftermath of 9/11 and treatment of visible minorities in some countries.

    Ebert says that Nazi Germany was too busy preventing evil (or at least pretending to do so) to pay attention to people's freedom (or sacrificed the latter for the former). But Nazism was successful partly because it brought back a sense of pride to Germans after their humiliation in WWI and having forced to pay for the war which sank the economy. Yes maybe they gave up individual freedom to gain that sense of pride. But as long as Germany was on top, not that many cared or challenge the authority.

  7. Actually one blogger wrote: that hidden conversation at the end of "Cache" has no meaning! It's just put in there so we would be talking about it now! ;-)

    But I think your mention of 9/11 makes sense. I've seen reviews pointing out Juliette Binoche in a scene in her home, while the TV in the background gives news about the Afghan/Iraq war. The racial tensions (quite high in France) could have been an excuse (and a good one, at that) to cinematically illustrate the insecurity themes in a larger scale.

    And doesn't any cinematic concept need some kind of story as a backdrop, as an excuse to offer that concept? At least that's my guess.