HANEKE’S THE WHITE RIBBON: WHAT HAPPENS BEHIND CLOSED SHUTTERS

Written by Augustine

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Klara: “Please forgive us, Father.”

(image source: https://goo.gl/jeLvmZ)

I cannot possibly express my admiration for Michael Haneke in a short film review. I newly discovered his work (starting by Amour and moving on with Cache) and I feel addicted to this almost nihilist cinema combined with tremendous acting in his films. Today I will review The White Ribbon, a 2009 drama about the mysterious incidents of a seemingly quiet farming village in Germany, just before the First World War swept away thousands of lives.

Peculiar occasions start taking place one after another: the doctor of the village trips on an invisible rope with his horse, the Baron’s son is brutally sodomized and a barn burns to the ground. These arbitrary incidents haunt the film throughout its running time– and only till the end, do we get a flash of what could have caused the aforementioned. A classic Hanekeian open-ended movie, don’t you agree?

The White Ribbon could be considered a fatalistic movie– everything is presented as cause and effect; while, being shot in black and white, this only adds up to the mystery and supernatural-like tone of the movie. The family dynamics are also intimately connected to all aspects of life in the small village. What is more, the constructed differences between the two sexes and the roles each has to assume also depending on the social hierarchy create the backbone for this extraordinary drama. A drama about (in)direct violence, a drama about the power of the patriarchal and even feudal law.

In the center of these themes lies a group of children. Interestingly enough, throughout the movie Klara is the only girl who talks on behalf of the group; the children are always walking together in the same posture and with the same movement. The same power dynamics that apply within the family unit are also applied within children– at least that is what Haneke wants us to think about.

While watching the movie the spectator is constantly bombarded with scenes of psychological violence– classic Hanekeian technique. We do not have violence pouring out of televisions now though, we can see it blatantly in front of our eyes, or listen to it behind closed doors.

Domestic violence, corporal punishment, verbal and psychological abuse as well as the ecclesiastical laws which should dictate everyone’s life in pre-war Germany– all these themes and concepts complement each other delivering, in the end, a family and social drama by triggering our worst fears.

Symbolism is also important in the film; the title itself is a reference to purity and it is heavily mocked and distorted in the movie. Furthermore, the politics of power, gender and violence are all stuffed into it in order to speak against taboos, anxieties and maltreatment.

Considered one of the most significant directors of our century, Michael Haneke is perhaps the only one who can talk about disturbing subjects by persuading everyone to stay at their seats till the movie ends. His nihilist attitude and unique sense of irony, his focus on making us uncomfortably hooked on his films, his interest in violence and abuse are some of the basic elements characterizing his cinematography. The White Ribbon, as the title could suggest, ties everything together and ironically, it brings forth not so pure and white shades of our humanity.

 

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