A couple years ago, I took a quiz on Facebook to determine who my best relationship match is in regards to taste in movies. Being of considerable movie taste, it's important that I don't end up with someone with drastically inferior inclinations toward what is quality cinema. The resulting match: my brother. Thanks, Facebook. In truth, my brother and I do agree on most movies, so when he told me that the Oscar-nominated Austrian film The White Ribbon was not worth seeing, I decided to wait until DVD. Bad move. The White Ribbon is one of the most captivating, intoxicating and fresh films of the last year.
Written and directed by Michael Haneke (Funny Games), The White Ribbon is set in a small German town on the eve of World War I, a place where the inhabitants aren't used to crime or deviance - or at least are ignorant to it. But after a string of incidents - someone placing a trip wire across a path the village's doctor often uses, a barn burning down, a young boy being strung upside down and paddled until he bleeds - the townspeople begin to turn against one another. The movie is told from the perspective of the school teacher (Christian Friedel), who slowly begins to deduce who's responsible.
Filmed in black and white and treated like a production from a different era, The White Ribbon is a unique film that defies typical genre stereotypes. It's first and foremost a drama, as the mysterious events that occur in the town serve more as catalysts for character development than as the driving force of the picture itself. And yet it is a thriller, a mystery with dangerous and disturbing implications. The combination of these genres, coupled with a slowly evolving relationship between the school teacher and a new girl in touch, make The White Ribbon a complex character study well worth watching. It's not for everyone - it wasn't for my brother - but it is intriguing, engaging and at times creepy (in its own special way).
The White Ribbon is defined by so many things, it's hard to list them all: The careful direction by Haneke; the look and feel of the picture; the subtle, pitch-perfect performances; the masterful writing. The White Ribbon is one of the best movies of 2009.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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