What do you get when you cross Puritan religious fear, simple village life and strange, unexplained goings on? Yes, you do get The Crucible. It was very successful play by Arthur Miller and a moderately-okay 1996 film. But you could also end up with Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon.
When I first started reading Total Film in 2009, The White Ribbon featured in the first issue as the Palme D’Or winner at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. It was up against Fish Tank (2009, obvs) which won the Jury prize and I would end up watching later and considering it one of the best modern British films.
So, I knew I would have to watch The White Ribbon eventually and, even though I wasn’t looking forward to the 145 minute run time, it was well worth powering through.
The White Ribbon
The White Ribbon is set in pre-WWI Germany in a small, fictional village. The village functions just as you would expect a small, tight-knit community to function at that time. The characters revolve largely around the Baron, the farmer and the doctor, their children and the people that serve them. The narrator is the school teacher looking back on his time in the town and the strange goings-on in the town just before WWI. And they are very strange…
The doctor’s horse rides into a thin strip of almost invisible wire and ends up going to a hospital. A child is found abused and tied up and the barn is set on fire with no apparent cause. Aside from said strange goings-on, the film is mainly just an insight into the staunch, rule-abiding, Puritan lifestyle of a German village.
The village people
And what an insight it is. The most impressive aspect of this film is the attention to detail in every location, of which there are many. The time and effort to research the time period and set up the locations must have been astounding. If it was actually set up in an area of Germany and not just a mix of studio/locations (which I assume it was) it could be used as a historical village.
The film itself could be considered quite slow and confusing. It is very long, and the events of the film unfold without much drama. There’s not a lot that rewards you by sticking with it until the end. So, I would say that if slow, historically accurate films aren’t your bag, this film is not the film for you. However, if you like thinky dramas and slow payoffs, then the beautiful stillness of The White Ribbon is not to be missed.
Have you ever seen The White Ribbon? Did you like it? Let me know in the comments below!