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Wick's Review

Created Jan 26, 2010 10:02PM PST • Edited Jan 27, 2021 04:24PM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Perfect 5.0

    This dazzling German movie shows the sociological antecedents of Nazism in ways both fresh and timeless. A penetrating societal examination unprecedented in its knowingness, it would be a landmark no matter which nation it examined. That it elucidates the generation of Germans who grew up to form the Nazis makes it as important as Schindler’s List.

    The Germans who waged war against Britain, France, Poland, Russia, America, Jews, Gypsies and Gays first fought internecine battles within their own families and society, according to The White Ribbon. While the movie contains not a whiff of antisemitism or day-to-day nationalism, it presents a damning portrait of a soul-sick society prone to cruelty, hegemony and rigidity.

    Amongst the two movies in recent months to present the Nazi phenomenon in a new light, Inglorious Basterds felt like a National Lampoon reimagining of the Nazi era, while The White Ribbon feels like a ruthlessly honest examination of the proto-Nazi psyche.

    Michael Haneke, the auteur who created The White Ribbon, deserves to be lionized as a sociological hero as much as a cinematic one.

  3. Perfect 5.0

    The large Germanic cast is uniformly excellent and natively natural.

    The adults personify archetypes. Standouts include:

    • Burghart Klaußner as the Pastor: This pillar of the community never telegraphs his intentions, leaving the audience on tenterhooks about whether he will be cruel or kind to his many children.
    • Ulrich Tukur as the Baron: This feudal lord turns out to have problems in his own house and in those of his tenant farmers. Ursina Lardi elegantly plays his unhappy wife, the Baroness.
    • Josef Bierbichler as the Steward: The Baron’s right hand man, he’s the closest thing to middle class this feudal society has.
    • Branko Samarovski as the Farmer: This poor man scratches out a difficult existence under the thumbs of the Baron and the Steward.
    • Christian Friedel as the School Teacher: Educated, awkward and an outsider, he serves as witness for the audience.
    • Rainer Bock as the Doctor: The movie’s first victim doesn’t reveal his true nature till late in the second reel, making his craven callousness all the more shocking. Interestingly, Bock played a German general in Inglourious Basterds, the other recent Nazi dazzler.
    • Susanne Lothar as the midwife: This grievously put upon woman brings to mind the axiom that the quality of a society can be judged by how it treats its women.
    • Detlev Buck as the Father of the Betrothed: His brisk negotiation with his daughter’s suitor provides one of the movie’s funny moments.

    The adults are important mostly in relation to their children, the future Nazi generation. Seven thousand children auditioned for the movie. Those cast had faces that “resembled those in the photographs we all know from the period,” according to Michael Haneke. Standouts include:

    • Leonard Proxauf as the Pastor’s haunted son: That’s him in the poster. His Father thinks masturbation is causing his sickly appearance, when in fact the boy is haunted by real demons.
    • Maria-Victoria Dragus as the Pastor’s eerily helpful daughter.
    • Thibault Sérié as the Pastor’s sweet younger son: This boy seems to symbolize the kindly and innocent elements of the German nation.
    • Fion Mutert as Sigi, the Baron’s son: This innocent child of privilege finds himself the object of hatred.
    • Roxane Duran as the Doctor’s violated daughter.
    • Eddy Grahl as the Midwife’s Down Syndrome son. Can the other children – future Nazis – resist hurting him?
  4. Male Stars Perfect 5.0
  5. Female Stars Perfect 5.0
  6. Female Costars Perfect 5.0
  7. Male Costars Perfect 5.0
  8. Perfect 5.0

    The film’s richly nuanced black and white (perhaps with a touch of sepia) imparts a cinéma vérité feel of received history. Coupled with Haneke’s impeccably structured mystery plot, this stately film reveals its secrets with deliberation and gravitas.

    A sociological treatise, it includes countless insights. Here are two.

    • Well Ordered Patriarchy: The children all know their places, falling in line upon command. Kissing the hands of their parents serves as the sole physical intimacy between the generations. Some of this is necessitated by the exigencies of a pre-industrial farming village populated by large families. Nonetheless, Haneke’s intent is to suggest how this propensity to follow and to subjugate presaged the fascistic structure of Nazism some twenty years later.
    • Feudal Society: The rigid class structure of the village had as much in common with feudal societies from the Middle Ages as with the 20th Century that was already more than a decade old.
  9. Direction Perfect 5.0
  10. Play Really Great 4.5
  11. Music Perfect 5.0
  12. Visuals Perfect 5.0

    The many iconic images include a Church tower with decorations that look like an upraised middle finger or even a phallus flanked by balls.

  13. Content
  14. Risqué 2.1

    The sex is implied but perverted, the violence sparing but senseless, the rudeness expletive-free but vicious.

  15. Sex Titillating 1.9
  16. Violence Brutal 2.6
  17. Rudeness Salty 1.8
  18. Natural 1.0

    Very few dramas play it 100% straight in terms of natural reality. The White Ribbon does, even if its sociological indictment asks to be taken at face value. After all, it depicts an adult German generation that eagerly initiated WWI, and whose children became Nazis, some joining the SS or Gestapo, where they followed orders in the commission of industrial scale murder. Thus The White Ribbon doesn’t come across as callow self-loathing. It comes across as a fearless moral inventory of Germans by Germans.

    In this regard it continues with the German Nation’s impressive acknowledgment of their flaws and sins, a point I also made regarding The Reader.

  19. Circumstantial Natural 1.0
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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Jan 29, 2010 11:02PM

It’s like a real life horror movie. Some reviewers have compared it to a real life M. Knight Shamalyan movie.

Jan 29, 2010 9:52PM

Regarding Wick’s Review
Great review, Wick. I’ve been hearing a lor about this movie. I may check it out.