The White Ribbon

Let’s see, it’s in German with English subtitles.

It’s in black and white.

It runs almost 2 and a half hours.

Are you mad??

You might, as I did, encounter these words if you try and persuade your friends or family to watch the DVD of the movie The White Ribbon with you.  Now the hesitation may be understandable, but there are several good arguments you can make in the movie’s favor.

For starters, The White Ribbon has won several prestigious awards. It won the Cannes Film Festival’s highest award, the Palme d’Or, the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Golden Globes, and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.

Awards don’t guarantee a good filmof course.  So maybe it is better not to mention them at first.  It can make you seem like a snob.  Maybe it is better to concentrate on the most important fact.  The White Ribbon is a really impressive movie!

The film is set in a small German village just before the outbreak of World War I where the old order of life is in place. The local baron owns the land, the villagers rent and farm it and a small group of professionals, a doctor, a teacher, a priest, tend to the people.  Times have changed little since the Middle Ages.

A series of disquieting events begin to disrupt things, however.  The doctor is seriously injured when his horse falls over a trip wire. The baron’s son is kidnapped and turns up on his doorstep a few days later bloodied and refusing to talk about what happened.  A farmer’s wife is killed after falling through rotten floorboards.  The incidents seem connected but the authorities aren’t able to get any answers. Eventually the local teacher decides to find out for himself.

Shot in a stark black and white that seems to reveal every feature of the landscape and characters, The White Ribbon, exudes a sense of menace and foreboding that draws you in. The final revelation, while hardly neat and tidy, fits with the rest of the movie and resonates on a personal, social and historical level.

Sadly, persuading someone to see a film isn’t always easy. If you still encounter resistance I see two options. Either pop the DVD in quickly and say the movie is a “surprise”, a bit risky I know, or just watch it on your own. Either way you will be rewarded with seeing a great and memorable film.


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