Directed by Michael Haneke
The White Ribbon
The Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke won the grand prize last year – the Golden Palm – at the Cannes film festival with his film “The White Ribbon.” It’s set in 1913 Germany, in a small village with a Baron and Baroness, who own most of the land; their Steward and his family, the Teacher, the Doctor and the Midwife, and many children. It is taken for granted that children will be beaten for any infraction outside of blind obedience.
There are a series of mysterious events, which perhaps the children know about and perhaps they don’t. First the Doctor’s horse trips over a wire stretched just outside his own property. The Doctor is injured and the horse is killed, yet there’s no logical suspect outside of the children.. No one will ever say anything about who did it. Then a farmer’s wife is killed when she falls through a rotten floor. Then the Baron’s cabbage patch is beaten with a scythe until none are left. The Doctor has been having sex with the midwife for years, and has evidently been abusing his own daughter. The Pastor whips his children and ties their arms so they won’t masturbate; he puts white ribbons on them to show that they are somehow God’s children. A retarded child’s eyes are put out. This is not child’s play; something has happened to the children and we in the audience do no know what.
A barn is burned on the Baron’s property. No child will ever say anything to any adult, and the mystery seems never to be solved. Finally, the next year War is declared and life shifts once again. What is happening in the village? The film is shot in black and white (which Haneke got by shooting in color then fading out all color and leaving only black and white). It is both mysterious and beautiful, and yet the mysteries remain
Can they be solved? Not in Haneke’s film, and there’s the weakness in “The White Ribbon” for me; having set everything in motion, Haneke simply stands back and won’t even point us in the right direction. The film becomes a horrifying tempest, but in a tiny little teapot. Like his last film “Funny Games,” there is never a ‘why’, just the events themselves, and we walk out of the theatre feeling Haneke has been playing games with us.