The White Ribbon - Blu-ray Review

'like, some would say, all the best works of art, it might be that Haneke's film is remembered as being something astoundingly beautiful but largely pointless'

How many films recently have had that much over-used phrase 'shot in glorious black and white' trotted out as assessment of their visual merits? Good Night, And Good Luck? Sin City? At a stretch, Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow? Many more besides I'm sure. I've never been entirely certain what the phrase actually means. Good Night looks good sure but is the black and white really 'glorious'? I thought it was merely functional. Quite possibly The White Ribbon has now proved me right because here is black and white truly in all its glory. Michael Haneke's latest may very well be the definition of glorious black and white.

Having said that perhaps the choice of colour palette from the notoriously playful director is merely another trick to draw us into his world and message because nothing in The White Ribbon is clear cut. Not one single event is really black and white. What Haneke presents us with are a series of disturbing, sometimes gruesome acts which leave parts of a pre-First World War German village in a quandary. Narrating our way through the chaos is The School Teacher (Christian Friedel) who, having finally been established as a focal point, attempts to drag us through the slow-boil events with great force and effort. He even gets remarkably close to soliciting an 'answer' to what's happening and who is perpetrating the deeds before being resolutely cut off by a director who seems keen to frustrate.

It's this desire in Haneke, this need, to not give the answer which was seemingly obvious at the very beginning to an audience who want their narrative fulfilment, that eventually scuppers The White Ribbon's chances of being a great film. It's not spoiling anything to say that very early on the village's children have the finger pointed at them for committing the crimes and Haneke channels this through a very deliberate aesthetic that calls to mind 1960's The Village Of The Damned. As other suspects are suggested, Haneke never seems to settle on one and instead of granting at least a suggestion of guilt to anyone waiting for it, we instead get a very open-ended conclusion which, rather than raise interesting questions, invites 'so what' shrugged shoulders.

That isn't to say that the film is worthless. Cinematographer Christian Berger should have almost certainly won an Oscar for his work here and his framing of scenes and shots is remarkable in both its simplicity and brilliance. Haneke does create some threat and tension too and, despite the fact that there's really not enough of either, when they are present they serve to drive viewers to distraction long since they have realised that there isn't really much of a narrative thread holding everything together. Like, some would say, all the best works of art, it might be that Haneke's film is remembered as being something astoundingly beautiful but largely pointless.

Which of course could be what he intended all along. If his point was to make a film about how horrible parents and children were in pre-war Germany (not forgetting that these would be the people who grew up to be the generation that led the Nazi movement) then I suppose he has succeeded but The White Ribbon directly and purposefully intimates there is more going on here. The problem is that Haneke never gets past that intimation and while ambiguity is not necessarily a bad thing there has to be something to be ambiguous about, a fact apparently forgotten in creating an artful film that is probably most at home in the art house.

Look further...

'A visual treat, The White Ribbon is a movie that will not only be a spectacle for you to glare at, but also a film that will work your mind just as much as it delights your eyes' - Anomalous Materials, Grade A+


  1. I'm intrigued...

    Good review, sir.

  2. I think intrigued is the right word although 'bored' was the one that came out of my partner's mouth and I can see that in this as well. Certainly 'frustrated' is very valid.

    Thank you for your kind comment.