The White Ribbon (2009)
Michael Haneke’s enigmatic style of interweaving convoluted plot lines paints an ominous portrait of a small German village shortly before the beginning of World War I. The town is experiencing a string of bizarre occurrences stretching the boundaries of bad luck. As the citizenry attempts to decipher its run of misfortune, bad light is cast on each of the primary characters. The genesis of these bad incidents appears solvable, but answers don’t come easy.
An unnamed elderly schoolteacher narrating from the future by Ernst Jacobi, but portrayed in the events of the film by Christian Friedel, recalls the distant memory of strange events transpiring in the year of his courtship and engagement to his wife Eva (Leonie Benesch). The story begins as the town doctor (Rainer Bock) is knocked off of his horse by a nefariously placed wire. The doctor is taken to a hospital out of town and an investigation begins. The police cannot figure out who tied the wire, nor can they figure out who took it down. Meanwhile, the town’s land Baron (Ulrich Tukur) becomes the target of vandalism. Children disappear. Adults disappear. As accidents become commonplace, no one is above suspicion. Even the town Pastor (Burghart Klaussner) is discovered to be so hard on his children he could be unraveling. As the plot progresses, theories about the source of all this trouble arrive and fade almost as quickly.
The film is masterfully shot in black and white using stark contrasts creating an ominous backdrop for this bleak narrative. Heneke knows his audience and elements of German expressionism are prevalent with regards to the lighting and contrast to the point near satire. The film’s moves at a calculated pace: as characters drop in and out of favor, red herrings are slid in to drive the story and cast suspicion. Slow pacing and a convoluted plot twists may turn a few people off, but fans of his 2005 film Cache will enjoy the evolution in Heneke’s style. Heneke creates a convoluted maze in the tradition of Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Lost Highway (1997). The film forces the audience’s best guess right up until the end. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re up for a well-constructed thinker, the labyrinth of The White Ribbon will resonate. (Billups Allen)