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Movie Review: The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or Winner

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Austrian born filmmaker Michael Haneke has left his mark on the international film industry and secured himself a place in history, winning this year's Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or for his haunting black and white film The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band). The film was released on November 13 in Curzon Cinemas around the UK.

Justifiably so, Haneke shares this accolade with some of the most highly acclaimed film directors in cinematic history. Filmmakers who have earned this award include Cecil B. DeMille for his film Union Pacific; Orson Welles for The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice; and the previous year's winner Laurent Cantet for The Class (Entre les Murs).

Haneke's winning film is set in a small Protestant town in Germany between the years 1913-14. Sitting on the doorstep of the first World War, the opening scene introduces the narrator. I am not overly keen on stories told via narration but Ernst Jacobi (who plays the narrator's voice) seems to have a way of whispering the stories into my ear so it seemed I was listening to the tales of an aged man seated beside me at the park on my lunch break.

Jacobi talks of his time as a school teacher and the perplexing events that took place while he lived in the village. Interwoven amidst the village affairs, the youthful school teacher, played by a well cast Christian Friedel, falls in love with a nanny who is soon forced to return to her home town. There is innocent flirtation between the couple and Haneke creates a wonderful way of presenting how a man was once required to court a young woman by first requesting permission from her father. That scene in particular was shot so well that I felt nervous for the hopeful lad. Watching him sit face to face with the girl's father was like walking upon thin ice while carrying a backpack full of weights.

It's a thoughtful piece that sneaks up and pulls you in to the storyline. In the first scene, the doctor is galloping home on his horse and suddenly falls over a trip wire that was intentionally placed in his way. This moment introduces us to the locals, their children, and the start of unexplained happenings. The children of the families involved play an important role in this film. They seem to weave their way eerily in and out of scenes and one character in particular held my attention.

Klara, intelligently played by Maria-Victoria Dragus, is the older sister of the Pastor's family. The Pastor himself (Burghart Klaussner) is a strong character, forever trying to stamp his dominance upon his children. This is where the use of the white ribbon comes into play. The ribbon itself represents a child's innocence and his two older children, after misbehaving, after forced to wear this ribbon again as a reminder of their youthful purity.

Klara and her brother Martin (Leonard Proxauf) both take charge of their four younger siblings. Perhaps Martin was supposed to exude a stronger character but Klara has a persona that draws the viewer's eye and I believe this to be part of Haneke's intentional filmmaking brilliance. Something invites the viewer to follow her throughout the film and question what lies underneath her  exterior.

Throughout the film there are surface characters that are introduced such as the farmer and his family but it's hard to become attached to these characters as they seem to come and go quite fleetingly. This was one problem I did have with the film. For any filmmaker, time is valuable, but it would have been inviting to see into these lives a little more than what I was given.

The film seemed to incorporate many sub-stories as though the director's intention was to interlink short films together with an ultimate story of overhanging mystery. This mystery always seemed to be linked by the children of the village. A hint is dropped by the narrator, that these pre-war happenings perhaps played a part in the commission of future atrocities.

When I am lost in a good film, I find that time seems to dissolve into space and I need a slap in the face to awaken me from the catatonic state I seem to evolve into. This movie did that to me for most part of the film. The children always managed to mesmerize me but I also found the cinematography and camera work to be part of the reason for being lost. The brilliance of the cinematography throughout helps wake the film up and bring to life breathtaking scenes that seem to invite themselves into the audience's lap. It presents clean shots that illuminate the screen and the beautiful imagery is almost reason enough for it to have won one of the most prestigious awards in film.

The White Ribbon weaves its way into cinematic brilliance for its unique ability to pull the viewer into the screen, for its awe-inspiring cinematography, and an unexplainable certain something that seems to be the secret recipe for a Palme d'Or winner. This is something that Hollywood can't compete with.

The film is spoken in German but I did not for one moment find the English subtitles to pull focus. It's a must for cinematic fiends who find themselves searching for a unique storyline accompanied by high class filmmaking standards who want to be left thinking.

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About Hayley_Fontaine

An Aussie woman who's recently moved to the US & is trying to make use of her photography, film and writing skills to pave a career path as a multimedia journalist.