Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon)

I have it for several months now, but have not opened it yet. Almost afraid to touch it. The DVD of Das Weisse Band is still waiting to be watched, but something is holding me back. Do you know that feeling of coming back to a vacation spot you visited before, and it does not live up the memory? The same feeling keeps me from inserting the DVD in the player. Because it is the most impressive movie I have ever seen, and I want it to hold on to that status.

The German cinema and television at times turn out gems, some gain wide acceptance, some are overlooked by the masses. Of course there was Rainer Maria Fassbinder, who gave us, among others, Die Ehe der Maria Braun, Leli Marleen and Berlin Alexanderplatz. But there is more: Volker Schlöndorff’s Der Blechtrommel, Bagdad Café, Buddenbrooks, ‘Paris, Texas’, Goodbye Lenin, Das Leben der Anderen, and who can forget the impressive TV-series Heimat ?

And so, early 2010 Das Weisse Band, or in English The White Ribbon, reached Dutch movie theatres. Awarded the Palm d’Ore in Cannes and receiving raving reviews, it was enough to hop in the car and drive to The Hague to see this movie.

Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon), source:

Das Weisse Band tells about the mysterious and violent incidents in a small rural village in northern Germany during the last year before World War I would disrupt traditional social structures for ever. Who ever wonders why Marxism and socialism could get a foothold in Europe, I suggest to go and watch Das Weisse Band. Not only social economical differences are apparent, but the social hierarchy that dominated all aspects of the common people's lives was just waiting to burst. Das Weisse Band does not touch on politics at all, but director Michael Haneke paints an obvious picture without referring to a clear defined and outlined social uproar. Living in rural Germany in the 1910s meant that everybody had to be fully aware of his or her place in society. Only the gentry stood above all this, they were the centre of the community, directing the preacher and police. On the opposite end of the social spectrum were the voiceless farmers who had to work hard to make a living and pay their rent to the gentry. In between we find the small middle class, portrayed in this movie by the doctor, who abuses his power over his maid – cruel and sexually. We are also introduced to the harsh way the vicar raises and punishes his children – maybe common at the time, but incomprehensible today. We see the strange and disrupting occurrences through the eyes of the new and young schoolteacher – the only one who looks at everything that's happening as an outsider. Any ideas and suspicions we may have concerning the person responsible for the assault on the doctor, the abuse of the baron’s son, the fire in the barn, comes to us through the eyes of the teacher. Between all this, the village children are a constant factor in this movie. The stunning screen performances of the young actors are one of the things you will not forget after seeing this movie. But are their characters evil and are they the force behind all this? Or are they just highly intelligent and is it their curiousity that brings them to the places were the unexplained events happen? We will never know for sure, but we can have our suspicions – and that is the way how this brilliant movie ends.

Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon), source:

It is the first movie I watched that kept me discussing about it for days with the other people who have seen it. That's telling. But I should not forget that there is more then just a story to make a truly great movie. The beautiful black and white cinematography, Haneke's lazy pace to bring this story, the simple but effective music, and the subdued but great acting. Haneke chose unknown actors, many of them very young. And the language, Hochdeutsch, once again proves how fascinating and beautiful German can be.

So there we have it. A movie that impressed me so much that I am almost afraid to see it again. I don’t have a cinema screen at home, so the impact could be less overwhelming then when seen in a movie theatre, and I know how the story will develop. But then, there are so many questions left, that I should watch it again. I will. And so should you.

English language movie trailer.

German language trailer:

1 comment:

  1. One of the most impressive movies of the past few years. As a fact, German movie really has made a huge comeback.
    Last year I went to the cinema only twice. The first time was to see "A Serious Man" by the Coen Bros. I'm a huge Coen Bros. fan. A few weeks later I saw Das Weisse Band. As you say a piece of art. I especially liked the brilliant photography. I bought the dvd too, but apart from some short segment, I haven't had the time to watch the whole movie. This movie must be seen on a large cinama screen to really be appreciated.