Review: The White Ribbon (2009)

the blazing reel white ribbon review

When it comes to making the audience uneasy there is no one who can do it better than Michael Haneke. I’ve seen only two of his films – Funny Games (U.S) and Benny’s Video – and found myself feeling both disturbed and incredibly uneasy while watching both films. Haneke’s The White Ribbon is one film that seemed to constantly pop-up here and there whether it was IMDb recommending it or one of my friends and after avoiding it for some time I finally gave in and decided to watch it.

The film follows the story of a small farming village in Germany shortly before World War I where something is terribly wrong. The doctor suffers an accident when the horse he is riding takes a fall as the result of tripping on a wire strung between two posts of a gate. A worker’s wife dies in accident; her death leads to her family’s ruin. The baron’s son is kidnapped and brutally caned and left hanging upside down with his pants at his ankles. A barn burns to the ground. Who is to blame? The events don’t point to any particular culprit but a local schoolteacher has his suspicions.

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Let me just start by saying that The White Ribbon is a magnificent film. It’s not everyday that I see a film that I can’t stop thinking about but this is such a film. It’s also one of the most unique and unnerving cinematic experiences I can ever recount of and it’s a film that is both very compelling and very disturbing. Unlike many of Haneke’s other films where he constantly shocks you and straight-up dares you to leave the theater, this film is a masterfully composed one that plays with you psychologically. It’s chilling but in such a subtle way that you can’t help but feel compelled to continue watching it. To put it in Gene Siskel’s words: ”He (Haneke) plays the audience like a piano”.

A lot of the credit goes to the film’s haunting yet gorgeous black-and-white cinematography which establishes the whole dark and clinical tone of the film from the very outset and needless to say, Haneke does a splendid job of directing this film utilizing both the cinematography his superb screenplay to build up the atmosphere and the entire film has this sinister and extremely agitating feel that something malevolent and very bad is about to happen and quite honestly the film sucked me in with this feeling. It’s a film that asks you a lot more questions than it answers and while it may perplex many, it is bound to provoke some genuine thought. The film is also an allegory of Fascism and takes a very subtle dab at how it originated and eventually led to the the Third Reich.

All in all, The White Ribbon is a powerful and riveting film that offers a pessimistic study of a German society. It’s a film that’s likely have you anxious throughout it’s run-time and leave you both cold and clinical at end but it’s also an extremely compelling experience that you shouldn’t miss out on. If you are a fan of Haneke’s work you should definitely see this if you already haven’t, if not, than this is probably the one film that will change your opinion of him.


-Khalid Rafi


27 responses to “Review: The White Ribbon (2009)

  1. Good write up. 🙂

    Haneke is quite a diverse director. “Amour” – which is an exceptional drama – is a world away from “Hidden” which is vastly different from this film. And they all work because they are so different.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I watched the US Funny Games and hated it so much I wanted to find the director and beat him. Then I gave this a watch and quite liked it so I spared him : )

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed Funny Games a lot(both versions but I liked US more). Yup Im just that twisted. So I was excited to see what sort of twisted things Haneke would come up in this flick. The White Ribbon is very much twisted and it reminded me of The Children of The Corn set before World War 1. I agree the black and white cinematograpy was brilliant. and it really put you in that time space. BTW I hated Amour. that is the movie I wanted to find the director and beat him with his own movie. Love your site. Dont hate me

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Vern. I don’t hate you and I understand that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I certainly respect yours.
      My mind is still not made up on Amour but I guess I’ll give it a look and see for myself.


  4. “that plays with you psychologically” This has me sold. I really need to see a film by Haneke… I have The Hunt on BR, that was him wasn’t it? I’ll have to see if I can get a copy of this, it sounds riiiiiiiiiiight up my alley

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wouldn’t recommend some of Haneke’s early films because I found them to be really and pretentious and self-indulgent films which feel like stern lectures on their subject-matter. However, I think he’s really changed his style since this film and even though I haven’t seen his follow-up, Amour. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.

      The Hunt is a Danish film directed by Thomas Vinterberg and I would recommend it as well, its a very good film.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh wow I was way off, I thought The Hunt was one of Haneke’s films. D’oh! The White Ribbon sounds good though, and I’m sure I have heard the name before…. I’m gonna check it out, even if its just cos I haven’t seen one of his films yet! He sounds like a director who will leave an impression, which is a quality I like

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hmmm I think I’ll either go for this or the one you mentioned as a starting point. Damn, there are so many directors whose material I still haven’t seen! For some reason it drives me crazy

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah same! But at the same time I am so obsessed with finding new recent stuff that I never get properly into the older stuff like I used to. Kubrick and Polanski was how I originally got into film.

        BTW you say Haneke is an expert at making the viewer uncomfortable… what are your thoughts on Gaspar Noe? I loved Enter The Void personally but I don’t think I should watch it again. Ever.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve only seen Enter the Void and I didn’t find it particularly compelling or all that coherent. Haneke’s films (barring Funny Games U.S) at least have cohesive stories. Enter the Void was nice to look at but I didn’t think it was that disturbing and the story really did nothing for me the camerawork often annoyed me as well. I guess its not for everyone 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I can understand that. The cinematography is stunning and I have to give the movie credit for that.
        Gasper Noe has got another potentially uneasy to watch movie, ‘Love’ coming out this year

        Liked by 1 person

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