aka: Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (A German Children's Story)
Directed by: that guy who did Cache, a film I didn't really like.
Starring: a shitload of German people.
It's not easy being German. We German women especially, don't none of us look like the St. Pauli Girl. I'm descended from German farmers, and most of the women in my family resembled military tanks made out of mashed potatoes: pale, starchy, stocky and plain, with big blocky faces and fingers like meathooks. We have a reputation for efficiency and dourness, for beer and pastries and doing terrible things with cabbages. And none of us can ever escape the Nazi jokes. I didn't even know what a Nazi was back in 1979 when our third grade class traced our family trees. My family did not discuss their Eastern European past, and certainly not in front of their 9 year old granddaughter. I didn't find out that we'd lost family in Dachau until I was in my teens.
So watching The White Ribbon was kind of an eerie experience for me. It was all so disquietingly familiar: the homogenous faces, the dark, drab clothing, the starched and humorless personalities. Throw in a black forest cuckoo clock and a ton of dog hair and it totally would have been my grandmother's living room.
This is categorized as a drama/mystery, but I call bullshit. This is a horror movie on par with such films as Berberian Sound Studio, The Innocents and Village Of The Damned, that last one in particular. There's a serious lack of onscreen violence and/or bloodshed, but the mood is unrelentingly dark, heavy with dread and unequipped with safety valves.
World War I is over, and its devastation doesn't seem to have touched the quiet village of Eichwald. It's a tidy little town, sternly Protestant and oppressively perfect. No one is allowed to leave the house without being buttoned, polished, starched and ironed beforehand. It's so prim and proper it's a miracle it hasn't imploded...but it's about to. We are permitted to see the events leading up to the complete and utter ruin of a society, but we never see the ruin itself. Only the seeds being scattered by the stormy winds, taking root and strangling everything in their path.
You see, there's a lot wrong with this quaint little hamlet, but it's like a pregnant woman wearing a corset - it's causing unseen damage on the inside and birthing some deeply twisted monstrosities. The long standing rule enjoyed by the tyrannical triumvirate consisting of Doctor, Pastor and Baron is about to be shaken, exposing its instability and rotting foundations. The children of the village can no longer be forced into the unforgiving molds that their parents have established for them. They are at long last rebelling, but not in a garish, overt manner. They move as one, deliberately perpetrating acts of violence with emotionless faces and dead eyes. No one wants to believe that the children could be responsible for such heinous acts, so no one does believe it. They simply ignore it. And allow it to continue. And do nothing. That is horror.
It's not an accident that this generation of children would grow up to be World War II's Nazi elite, or that this 2009 film looks and feels like a genuine relic from that time period. I never once felt like I was watching a new movie while I was watching this. It reeks of age and dust. It reminds me of my grandparents, whose vices were many and ugly, but who reveled in the sins of others and saw nothing at all hypocritical in their behavior.
For all of its prudishness and proper attire, The White Ribbon is a deeply ugly film. It's like a bright bed of blemish-free roses, sprouting enthusiastically from the dirt covering a mass burial pit. And it's not for everyone. It's not an action movie by any stretch of the imagination. It's comparable to a long, dull visit with your great aunt, who never opens her curtains or turns on the TV and hasn't dusted in 26 years. Except there's a dead body on the parlor rug, and it's leaking putrefaction, and nobody will look at it or acknowledge it and you're stuck there, knowing you should say something, but understanding that such a rude action will brand you the blackest sheep in the flock forever after.