Horror film of the decade: “The White Ribbon”

AS EVERY CONNOISSEUR OF horror films knows, the scariest monsters aren’t the ones you see but the ones you don’t. In his latest film, The White Ribbon: A German Children’s Story, winner of this year’s Palme d’Or in Cannes and Germany’s Oscar submission for 2010, director Michael Haneke presents his audience with the creepiest film of the decade without showing a single creepy monster. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that he does indeed show an entire village filled with creepy beings, leaving us to figure out which among them are even more monstrous than the rest.

It is the year 1913 in the fictitious northern German village of Eichwald – an innocuous enough name in itself (“Oakwood”) that nevertheless leaves a creepy taste in the viewer’s mouth due to its associations with Eichmann and Buchenwald. Everything should be just fine here, because these are, after all, Germany’s good old days. The First World War has yet to erupt (it will before the film is over), Wilhelm is still wearing the crown of the German Empire, and the Nazi Party is not even a sparkle in the eye of a young Munich painter called Adolf Hitler. And yet all is not well in this picture book quasi-feudal community. Three men reign supreme: the feckless baron (played by Ulrich Tukur) in his manor house, who owns all the means of production for miles around (assisted by his violent and lecherous administrator, played by Joseph Bierbichler), the tyrannical Lutheran pastor (Burghart Klaussner), and the incestuous and seemingly psychopathic village doctor (Rainer Bock). The regime they maintain is characterized by violence, misogyny, stupidity, systematic hypocrisy, and “God-given” authority. As the narrator (the empathetic village schoolteacher, played by Christian Friedel) says retrospectively at the start of the film, what happens in Eichwald “may cast light on other events in this country.”…



One Comment to “Horror film of the decade: “The White Ribbon””

  1. I read the full piece continued at Open Salon. This really is quite a brilliant piece of work on your part. And it looks like I wasn’t the only one who thought of “The Village of the Damned” while watching it.

    What struck me most about THE WHITE RIBBON was how the doctor was at first shown to be an innocent victim. He had taken in the midwife and her disabled son, he seemed to care for his daughter and son (and there was that borderline “adorable” bit about his son taking off for town to visit him in the hospital) and he took care of the entire town’s ills. Yet…he turned out to be the most heinous “creatures” of them all. It was quite a shocking turn. Shades of THE SWEET HEREAFTER there.

    Here are the rest of my thoughts:


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