The White Ribbon

In its original German version, Michael Haneke’s historical drama The White Ribbon has the subtitle “a German children’s story” (“Eine Deutsche Kindergeschichte”).

It’s a description that accurately sets the film's tone with its many, teasing possible significances.

The White Ribbon recounts a series of strange and violent incidents that occur in a small, isolated German village. The doctor is tripped from his horse; a cabbage field is wrecked; a pet bird meets a sticky end.

Tension builds to breaking point as the crimes go unsolved in an already volatile, strictly repressive society.

At the heart of the community and of the plots’s obscure machinations are the village’s children, whose connection to the gruesome crimes is deeply, unsettlingly ambiguous.

The Lutheran pastor wraps their arms with white ribbons to denote innocence – but the gesture might be one of desperate hope more than faith.

Haneke cites August Sander’s photographic portrait series ‘Faces of the 20th Century’ as an inspiration for the distinctive, rough-hewn look of the film. 

7000 children were interviewed in Haneke's exhaustive search for the right faces.

The film's interest in childhood spans sociological and political dimensions, dissecting the workings of inherited trauma and violence in a country on the cusp of two tumultuous wars. 

There is symbolic weight to the treatment of children in The White Ribbon, but its depiction remains unerringly truthful even as it plumbs the darkest depths.

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