THE WHITE RIBBON
(DAS WEISSE BAND)
BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
AUGUST 23, 2010
This year, “The White Ribbon” was in contention for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (Best Cinematography). Though I have not viewed the other nominated films, “The White Ribbon” came off as a relatively robust and Oscar-worthy endeavor. Come award night, an Argentinean film, “The Secret In Their Eyes” (coming out later this fall), won the award. However, until I can view the winning film, I still feel “The White Ribbon” deserved the gold statue.
“The White Ribbon” rarely presents itself as a foreign language film. Of course, there are subtitles to make it that, but in all regards, the film absorbs the viewer effectively enough to make them forget they do not know the language (unless they took German class for three years, as I did in high school). The film is a period piece set between July 1913 and August 1914, played out in black-and-white. The film could have taken place at any time, in any location (at times, this film felt even older) and still received the same reaction.
The eeriness of the film is a huge component in keeping the viewer absorbed. Two hours of subtitles and black-and-white film stock could bore the average person, but the film had enough going for it to keep a person’s interest intact. The story was twistingly complex, placing the viewer in the middle of a mystery. There are not many questions answered throughout the film, and the ending is left ambiguous, leaving several open-ended options as to what occurred. Subtlety was a significant component of the film, never appearing extravagant yet never coming off anti-climatic. There was always a new underlying relationship or cruel twist that surfaced to keep the German town portrayed in disarray. By the end, you felt as though you knew these people and that you had lived with them for years.
Very few films have ever had so many impressive performances delivered by children. The young children could break your heart, including the pastor’s son, with his broken-winged bird or the doctor’s son whose questions about death hit at the heart of the privy. The girls could also melt your heart, or they could be cold and concise, like the leading young lady, whose constant stares are the chilling force of the entire film. The boys were rascals one moment and vigilantes the next. The children, by far, out-act the adults in “The White Ribbon.”
The film’s costumes were spot-on, and the cinematography earned its nomination, allowing one to practically see the color through the black-and-white, particularly the scenes of nature, where the swaying wheat or the towering trees nearly popped out of the screen with brilliance.
With absolutely no expectations going into the film, the realization of the film’s darkness was reminiscent of stories like “Children of the Corn” and “Tommyknockers.” I felt like anything could happen. With so many deaths and injuries inflicted, there was still a probability of these occurrences. Though the film did not come through on Oscar night, “The White Ribbon” still feels award-winning and will continue to be one of the best foreign films I have ever seen. If you want to know what the film has to do with a white ribbon, then you will have to watch the movie for yourself.
December 30, 2009
Sony Pictures Classics
(for some disturbing content involving violence and sexuality)