Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The White Ribbon (2009)

Bad things happen in The White Ribbon (2009), accidents, very bad accidents but who is the culprit and why? Director Michael Hanake offers plenty of information but provides no answers, using the running time to crank up tension and generate paranoid suspense. Filmed in black and white and set prior to WW1, the village is picturesque, clean and as pure as the often glaring, driven snow, but not that innocent.

Like the Village of The Damned (1960), children suspiciously appear en masse at the scene of the crime or a moment thereafter. They are typically eerie and fuel cinema’s paedophobic tradition. You assume that the children are responsible for the accidents, you firmly point the finger of blame in their direction yet where is the evidence and why as a viewer are we blaming the children?

The real culprits here should be the adults. The narrative is told in retrospect by the village school teacher, the perfect link between the parents and the children as he has formed trusting relationships with both. The children, aside from their suspicious appearances and an incident involving scissors and a bird, are completely innocent and a world apart from their adult counterparts. Our association between them and the crimes are based entirely on subtle suggestion.

The evidence of deep-rooted evil in the adults is readily available. The pastor is incredibly abusive to his children with violent punishments, public humiliation – he even straps his eldest son’s arms to the bed to stop him from masturbating. The Doctor sexually molests his daughter whilst physically, sexually and mentally abusing his mistress. This information is given, yet still you insist on blaming the children, particularly in the case of the Doctor’s accident, but then you have to readdress his relationship with his victims. Hanake juxtaposes scenes together in such a way that your mind will often make wild assumptions but the biggest assumption you will come to is that the children are solely guilty of the crimes. If indeed this is the conclusion you reach, you have to ask yourself why?

Although The White Ribbon is a mystery thriller, it is also an investigation into the effect of abuse. Forcing faith onto children and violently abusing them is a huge contradiction and as Hanake would have us believe, it is a contradiction with huge and inexplicable consequences. The White Ribbon is directed brilliantly, the cinematography is so authentic of pre World War One, that you forget the film was only released a year ago. The child actors are perfectly restrained, giving memorable and, at times, chilling performances. Michael Hanake successfully continues creating paranoia cinema, as with Hidden (2005), you will spend the duration paranoid with the sense of impending doom but thoroughly relishing every glorious minute.

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