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.
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.