Hanake again makes a beautiful, troubling, and penetrating film that strengthens his reputation as a master of contemporary film.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie–which I had to step back and be amazed at: here is a recent black and white film with no musical score and a large ensemble cast of characters without a strong arc for any of them.
Truly a unique film (and I can understand why some are turned off by it), it is a ‘thinking’ film that like his previous films Funny Games and Cache are ‘meta’ commentaries on the relationship between filmmaker and audience.

Some will say that The White Ribbon is about the milieu of Germany and its generation that came of age in the second World War.
I would disagree with that. I feel that it is an over simplification.

It is very important in the viewing of the film to take into consideration that it is the Teacher’s recollection and is ‘told’ through his ‘voice.’
The opening narration is very instructive. The Teacher says he feels that while the story he will tell may shed light on ‘what happened in his country’ he says he is not sure how much of it is true–it is from his memories and from the gossip of the townspeople.

So while the film does follow Hanake’s theme of guilt, assigning blame, suspicion, and implicating the audience members as judges and co-conspirators, the film is about memory and collective memory.

The events told are selected to tell a story. Whether connected or not, a ‘narrative’ or ‘explanation’ must be pieced together to somehow make sense of the horrors of Germany’s Nazi era.

Do we and should we take the narrator’s view as truth?
Should we accept these events as bringing meaning to the Holocaust?
I would suggest ‘no’ to these questions.

What I do love about this film is its subtlety.
One note that rides as an undercurrent is the depictions of various violences towards women.
As an example, we can see male power over women in the two scenes where relationships are ended.
The first, the Doctor demeans his lover with cruelty and even prods her to kill herself. She is seated and he is standing.
The second is when the Baroness ends her relationship with the Baron. She is seated, he is standing and she diplomatically tells him that she is leaving. He appears unchallenged. The scene concludes with him leaving to speak to another man–why? To hear the news of war breaking out–as though this is the concern ‘of men.’

We see corrupted power on many levels, we see pardon given where none is deserved (the Pastor extending grace to his daughter in communion) and unsubstantiated accusation.
Where we as an audience are challenged is: while we are being presented with so much immorality and moral ambiguity and so many crimes–are we still looking for an answers to be given to ‘wrap up the story?’

How do we reflect on the past of our own lives?
How do we hold ourselves accountable in the present and why do we turn a ‘blind eye’ to so many glaring injustices right in front of us?

A great, beautiful film that desires a conversation with its viewers.

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