From July, 1913 to the outbreak of World War I, a series of incidents take place in a German village. A horse trips on a wire and throws the rider; a woman falls to her death through rotted planks; the local baron’s son is hung upside down in a mill; parents slap and bully their children; a man is cruel to his long-suffering lover; another sexually abuses his daughter. People disappear. A callow teacher, who courts a nanny in the baron’s household, narrates the story and tries to investigate the connections among these accidents and crimes. What is foreshadowed? Are the children holy innocents? God may be in His heaven, but all is not right with the world; the center cannot hold.
I was curious. I did not know much, just that the movie takes place in a German village, from July 1913 until the beginning of the first world war. Strange things happen in this village. The doctor has an accident because someone has set a trap for him. A woman dies. Children disappear and are found again injured, showing signs of torture. A bird gets savagely mutilated. The mother of a boy with down syndrome leaves without telling anyone. To say the least, this is a dark, gloomy and disturbing movie. An illustration of the so-called Poisonous or Black Pedagogy that was applied in Germany for a very long time. Most people in this movie are mean and cruel. If they don’t hurt each other with actions they do it with words. Things are not outspoken, everything happens behind closed doors. This is a society that is afraid of eternal sin but still commits so many daily crimes. In one of the last sequences people hear at church that war broke out. They cheer.
I did not enjoy this movie but must admit that it is very good. I have read a lot about this time and it is very accurate. The actors are outstanding and the black and white cinematography is atmospheric. It is also a very literary movie as the teacher who looks back on these events narrates many parts as if reading his memoirs.
I think The White Ribbon is a fascinating but very depressing movie. Don’t watch it if you need cheering up. As for the mystery part… Nothing is really resolved. I have my theories and would be glad to share them with someone who has seen it too. But to avoid spoilers I will keep quiet about it for now.