The White Ribbon

4 out of 5 stars
The White Ribbon

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

“A German Children’s Story” is this movie’s subtitle, but you wouldn’t know it unless you can translate some mysterious sloping script that’s been left undeciphered. Still, someone was definitely using their brain when they omitted that piece of information. Even without the added portent, The White Ribbon comes dangerously—wonderfully?—close to playing like an evil-kid flick. We’re never told the year, but the setting is agrarian: a farming hamlet in northern Germany before the start of the First World War. Class divisions are stark. The landowning baron (Tukur) rigidly presides over his many employees, who comprise much of the town. Farmers seethe when one of their number accidentally dies. A ferocious pastor (Klaussner) offers little in the way of compassion or wisdom.

Watching all of this are the bright, thoughtful eyes of young people; The White Ribbon never lacks for incident, but it truly takes off when it hews to impressionable minds quietly considering the fate of a fallen horse, a wounded bird, a blinded mentally ill peer. Who is responsible for these crimes of vengeance? Shot in a crisp monochrome by Christian Berger, the movie not so subtly approaches its theme of moral inflexibility. The writer-director is Michael Haneke, whose severe perfection has, in the past, been put to thornier purposes (2005’s majestic Cach), but never ones this important. Finally, the Austrian master is digging up the very roots of fascism; these are the abused children who, decades later, would stare at horror with the same curious eyes, both as witnesses and perpetrators. The movie will haunt you for days.—Joshua Rothkopf

Opens Wed 30.

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Release details

Release date:
Wednesday December 30 2009
144 mins

Cast and crew

Michael Haneke
Michael Haneke
Christian Friedel
Ulrich Tukur
Susanne Lothar
Burghart Klaussner

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