Das weisse Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte aka The White Ribbon (2009) A German Mystery

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.

The German movie The White Ribbon has won many prizes. It is labelled “mystery” and “drama”. For me this was a mystery with a very ghostly feel. Perfect for the R.I.P Challenge.

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.

15 thoughts on “Das weisse Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte aka The White Ribbon (2009) A German Mystery

  1. This sounds really good, but after last week’s very disturbing The Broken, I decided I needed romantic comedy this weekend–all frothy and lightness. I have a Doris Day movie (That Touch of Mink–my favorite of her films) and a movie about a woman who falls in love with a man with Asperger’s syndrome (can’t think of the title at the moment). Nothing dark for me at the moment I think. 🙂

    • It is a differnt type of disturbing I would say although I haven’t seen The Broken. This is disturbing because it is such a religious environment but the people are so mean. Horrible. And you can already see how they pass on this meanness to the next generation and the next.

  2. Your comment that “I did not enjoy this movie but must admit that it is very good” sounds like how I feel about many of Haneke’s films, Caroline! In general, I find him an interesting director but one who comes across as if he’s trying too hard to provoke the audience at times. I like the style more than the content of his work, I’m afraid. However, I’ve been intrigued by the previews I’ve seen of this film and am even more intrigued after seeing your review (I had forgotten he directed it until you reminded me). Look forward to discussing your theories about the mystery one of these days!

    • Oh, that is great news. I would enjoy discussing it. I really felt I had to write it like this because I imagine there are people who might have a problem with it. Provocative is probabaly a good way of describing it. I watched maybe one or the other of his movies I am not sure. Normally I don’t mind provocative Aronofsky and David Lynch are favourites of mine. It is a different type of provocation.

  3. This sounds (and, judging by the trailer, looks!) immensely bleak, but I must say you made me very curious. I am not familiar with Haneke but I do like Lynch and Aronofsky, and I’m a big fan of uncertain endings when they’re done well.

    • I wouldn’t exactly compare him to Lynch and Aronofsky because I really love their movies but he is worth watching. It is only after you have watched him that you realise how many horrible things really happened. I saw Haneke’s The Piano Teacher after Elfriede Jelinek’s novel… Same type of disturbing. Shows you what massive repression does to people same here.

  4. Like you I didn’t enjoy this movie, but I am still thinking about it months later! Very well made, and visually interesting movie. I’m curious to see more from Haneke – would you recommend anything in particular?

  5. I have to agree with what you say about “The White Ribbon”. It is well acted, well made, with great cinematography, yet I didn’t like it. Not only because it was awfully depressing.

    The film was way too long IMO. They took over 2 1/4 hrs where 90 mins would have been plenty. I’m normally in favour of movies taking more time, since many modern movies are rushed, but this was an exception. There was so much repetition. I felt like saying, “okay, I got it, move on please.”

    Ingmar Bergman was the master of this kind of movie, and he did it far better. The more I thought about it, the more I appreciated things in Bergman’s movies I hadn’t before. True depth, instead of superficial repetition, variation, and even humor. I remember him handling the same period father-figure in “Fanny and Alexander”, and it was harsh but it had life.

    • You are so right about Bergman and this reminds me that I wanted to re- watch some of his movies. He is depressing but it feels psychlogically accurate. Das weissse Band is more interested in sociology than in psychology. The emphasis is on the times, the society, not on the individual like in Bergman’s movies. I can relate to his charcaters, I couldn’t relate to those in Das weisse Band.

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