Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" is a 144-minute, black-and-white intimate profile that's as "unrelenting" and "draining" (my friend and Richard Corliss, respectively) as it sounds, as Haneke is "the master of disquiet" (to quote Denby, I believe). The film's best quality is that it examines many a family during a period of distress in a town as tightly knit as you might imagine. It's one of those small epics. Believe me, though, its presence is felt.
Haneke does what he does often here, creating a plot of “incidents” and “events,” (words used in the vague summaries of the film). In the way he worked with increasingly threatening videotapes in “Cache,” here he starts with a relatively small moment (a doctor crashing into a perfectly placed “tripwire”) that continue to get bigger and bigger until things get really serious. The film commences immediately with the aforementioned episode and shows its impact, which seems like an effective device in a couple of ways: 1) it sets the film moving in an interesting direction and 2) it also both (eventually) raises the thought of both a originally a total clean slate or a slate that’s been cleaned before the film has began, a very interesting idea raised indirectly by my friend (who liked the movie more than I did) and also “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
This injury prompts suspicion and a change or two, but it is soon forgotten, for the reason that my friend said: to keep the town together. The town already has fractured relations among its inhabitants, yes, but my friend notes the town would go to pieces if such a person were apprehended. This seems to be a correct reading.
I don’t know much more what to say about the film without giving stuff away (I understand why promoters of the film didn’t do that, but a Film Comment interview with Haneke hinted at it). Let me discuss how the film is made. Haneke himself said the film was converted to B&W after being shot in color due to the fear of looking historically inaccurate. This is true, but perhaps it’s also to emphasize the film’s focus on white as a color of innocence. It is also (as my friends said) to have the film have a huge impact. If you only watch color, this is not a good film at all for you. In the theater I was in, save for the faces next to me and the orange aisle light, it seemed completely colorless. When my friend said it was beautifully shot, he wasn’t kidding. It’s a job well done by cinematographer Christian Berger, who sets things up nicely for the effects team to get rid of the colors. The only technical issue is the somewhat spasmodic editing before scenes got to their conclusion. This was pretty annoying.
As a friend said, it’s engrossing. I find its structure really helpful in bringing you in (as well as the way there was no color at all anywhere around me). My mind, though, was wandering a lot. My friends said that the film had “no uplift.” This is right, and that means there are no “emotional hooks” in the film. That doesn’t stop the film from smashing into you, especially in the end. I agree with A.O. Scott’s comment that the film is “unsettling yet unsatisfying.” Ebert said, “At Cannes the year “Cache” premiered critics deplored its lack of a resolution” while going onto praise that aspect of the film. Haneke likes to do this, and in both cases it’s perhaps justified, but what a long time to wait for so little to ultimately come. The same thing happened with “Police, Adjective,” even though both films are good.
“The White Ribbon” I think is good but (for me) not the "masterpiece" IMDB users called it. I personally liked “Cache” better, a more intriguing film that had more interest in different ways. I enjoyed how this film was “personal.” Haneke (as been said before) is good at that. But this film is not one for anyone (and I know some) who resent a lack of color, "depressing" movies (worthy of a tag on Aspergian Sarah), or as Ebert helpfully noted, films with "a lack of a resolution." Don't get yourself into this film without making sure you're okay with those criteria, since this film has a lot of all three. B