Strange events happen in a small village in the north of Germany during the years just before World War I, which seem to be ritual punishment. The abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of this mystery.
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From July, 1913 to the outbreak of World War I, a series of incidents take place in a German village. A horse trips on a wire and throws the rider; a woman falls to her death through rotted planks; the local baron's son is hung upside down in a mill; parents slap and bully their children; a man is cruel to his long-suffering lover; another sexually abuses his daughter. People disappear. A callow teacher, who courts a nanny in the baron's household, narrates the story and tries to investigate the connections among these accidents and crimes. What is foreshadowed? Are the children holy innocents? God may be in His heaven, but all is not right with the world; the center cannot hold. Written by
White Ribbon focuses on a pre World War I German town and surveys the evolution of violent, wild incidents resembling punishments indicted on certain individuals. We are provided access to the story from the point of view of the town teacher, whose recollective voice-over interposes throughout the film. The narration competently obscures the culprits, thereby attributing the responsibility for the rage, and its (hypocritical) social incorporation to the whole society rather than certain "abnormal" characters.
In movie circles,White Ribbon is widely regarded as depicting the evolution of a microcosm of a proto-fascist society (which is to a certain extent viable by the way). However, the movie is a less Germany-specific and more universal parable on the socialization of rage and violence, on the evolution of the social circulation of rage and violence. The film follows a route from local (Germany) to universal, coming up with far reaching arguments, just as Foucault focuses on 18-19th century France and presents arguments on the evolution of prison and punishment systems.
Considering Haneke's entire filmography, it is evident that the director has always been interested in philosophical takes on pschology and human interaction, without historicizing his filmic arguments strictly, i.e., without attributing time spans/societies to them. If we leave the mediocrity of the enterprise aside, Haneke's recent remake of Funny Games shot-for-shot, yet in a different society (USA rather than Germany) fittingly illustrates the point.
After a span of work disappointing for many Haneke fans, the auteur returns with an influential and aptly argumentative film.
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