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The White Ribbon

Film Review by Dean Duncan Sep 29, 2014

This is pretty formidable, pretty magisterial stuff. That expertly judged final bombshell—“The Archduke has been assassinated in Sarajevo”—reveals to us that we’ve actually been watching a merciless, Teutonic version of Renoir’s Rules of the Game. By not being about the War (or, more particularly, about the War after that), The White Ribbon ends up being exactly and profoundly about the war, as well as the manifold impulses that inform it.

The cadre of children at the centre of The White Ribbon are effectively terrifying. And we see, multiply, where they come from. Each dynamic is very particularly portrayed, but they also multiply into a closely interlaced sociological and ideological pattern. Where the New German Cinema—inspired by 1962’s Oberhausen Manifesto, then running approximately from A. Kluge, 1966 to the death of R.W. Fassbinder, in 1982—was characterized, almost infected by fatherlessness and rootlessness, writer/director Michael Haneke’s film has a superabundance of dire patriarchs. The pastor, the Baron, the doctor, the steward, even the ineffectual peasant: they’re all pretty bad, but together they add up to the burning of the Reichstag. (The schoolteacher/narrator is the exception to that rule. He cracks the window a bit, as it were, suggesting the same decent possibilities as did the inspector character in H.G. Clouzot’s similarly nasty-minded Diabolique.) Too facile in its dire fatefulness? Well, the same went for the tectonical, also Teutonic Fritz Lang, but these guys are sure is convincing while you’re under their influence!