Saturday, January 30, 2010

The White Ribbon

Today I saw The White Ribbon, starring Susanne Lothar and Christian Friedel.

Black and white film can't make a story work, but it most certainly can enhance a story that's already good. This is the case in this moody, quiet drama from director Michael Haneke.

Once you get the characters straight (some of them look similar, and well, they all dress alike) you're led into an unconventional whodunnit featuring a village full of suspects.

The pre-World War I German setting itself builds suspense, as the audience knows what becomes of the nation in the decades to follow. Each scene passes along to something more that you realize will build and turn into something bad.

And that's how it unfolds: first, the town doctor has a freak accident (one that couldn't have taken place without the help of a human), then another person turns up dead. This is followed by a tortured child and the list goes on.

In between these ghastly happenings, we get to know many of the townspeople including the teacher who is narrating our journey (Friedel) and the scorned mistress of the doctor (Lothar). The revealing peek behind the curtain doesn't endear us to many of the citizens; it in fact does the opposite.

We witness abuse, we question motives, we sympathize with the children—well, at least some of the children—and we wonder if karma is just simply playing its punishment cards for all of the heinous behavior that goes on behind these closed doors.

True to form, Haneke (who attracted attention in 2005 with his thriller Caché) isn't going to spell it out for us.

There are many 'suspects' and layers of people to keep track of, but no clear-cut answer unless you're willing to believe the theory that's presented near the end. It certainly could be true, but if it was that easy, would our journey have been so rough?

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