The White Ribbon

 

According to Michael Haneke all of the following are sources of terrorism;

Masturbation, especially amongst minors.
Religious education, especially when it promotes community and peace.
Horse tripping.
Incest.

And those are just the ones I remember from what must be the worst film I have seen for a long, long time – and yes, that includes Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen & Daybreakers. The White Ribbon is probably supposed to be incredibly profound but in all honesty this may be the most tedious film ever.

In a little village in northern Germany a doctor’s horse is tripped, breaking his shoulder. This leads the towns schoolteacher to recollect the story of the town prior to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and how it was all just a prelude of the horrors to come (cue dramatic music, if this film allowed such conceits). Except it isn’t. Without reading about the film beforehand there is no way to understand this is the point, all those coffee shop intellectuals saying that it is are just reading the blurb from Sight & Sound. No, The White Ribbon is the following;

A years worth of appalling soap condensed into two and a half tedious hours.
With an unreliable narrator speaking at half speed.
In black & white.
And German.

Haneke can make good films, this just isn’t one of them. Cut a good hour from it and you’d have the start of something, cut another half hour and you can actually begin to explain what you’re trying to say in the half hour needed to get it to feature length. Instead everything is metaphor or an attempt at metaphor, indeed let’s try to explain some of those initial points within the context of this film;

Masturbation, especially amongst minors.
Probably supposed to be about the loss of innocence, except it so ham fisted that the director only falls short of shouting, “And it will make you blind!” Compared to the Midwich-Cuckoo like children in the rest of the film (ooo-creepy if I wasn’t just bored by then) the lad getting his rocks off off-screen is the most healthy amongst them.

Religious education, especially when it promotes community and peace.
Don’t pick on the weak, look after them! That promotes terrorism, it’s almost like universal healthcare! Oh, I’m European? Hmmm, maybe that one isn’t working either.

Horse-tripping.
Fucked if I know! Probably a desire to try to wake the audience from their slumber with an action scene, except it’s right at the start of the film. And when we find out who’s responsible it makes no sense, even within the context of the film.

Incest.
See above, perhaps it’s supposed to be that something isn’t right with the country? Except it requires such a c-change from the character responsible that it’s rendered pointless.

But enough about the plot (or lack of), the heavy-handed attempts at metaphor, does the film have anything to recommend it? Well, it looks pretty at times but that’s about it. As mentioned above the pacing is nothing short of appalling, half an hour in and you feel like it’s twice that, by the end it feels like a day it’s so inconsistent yet always glacial. The acting is natural for the most part, but that may also be a kind word for amateur in places. No, the is nothing to recommend about this film what-so-ever.

So why has it been so critically well received? Well, K was pointed enough to say that maybe nobody wanted to appear stupid by criticising it, so maybe I’m an imbecile. Maybe it’s the weight of the director’s past efforts (for the most part very good) leading them to think that it was good? But none of this explains how it won The Palme D’or, especially ahead of a field that included Broken Embraces & A Prophet?

The White Ribbon is now limping out onto DVD, do yourself a favour and rent something else (even the aforementioned Transformers, at least at times it’s entertainingly bad) and save yourself wasting two and a half hours on this pointless crap. You’ll thank me if you’re ever unfortunate to be forced to watch it.

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