Here’s a bit of insight into living on a farm. We get our internet via satellite, which has never been as good as ADSL but it has been the only broadband option for us other than Telstra mobile. We were offered NBN satellite a couple of years ago which upped our monthly limit from 6GB to 60GB and guaranteed a speed increase over several years to rival city access. Then the government changed. About a year ago we got a letter from our ISP saying NBN satellite was oversubscribed and so they were being forced to restrict speeds and limits. Now we are down to 20GB and speeds are so slow that websites take forever and we don’t bother with videos. So what does that have to do with The White Ribbon, I hear you ask?
Well if I want to watch foreign language movies, my only options are the local DVD shop (which has a very small selection) or my subscription to Quickflix. The way Quickflix works is that I can borrow as many DVDs a month as I like but they only send the next one when I return the one I have. I have had The White Ribbon out for about four months now. That means I have probably paid about $50 for it so far. I thought it was time to watch it.
I really didn’t know much about it but the ratings on IMDb were good and it sounded like a bit of a thriller. It’s German and it’s about a village where strange things start to happen and the children are odd. We tried to get Tee and Clip to go to bed, thinking it might be a bit freaky, but they wouldn’t go and so we ended up watching it as a family. They were freaked out by it, but not in the way I expected.
What I didn’t realise, was that it’s a Michael Haneke film. He’s a German director who makes films that are very slow, very long and usually end with little or no resolution. Well I say that based on the two of his films that I have watched – this one and Hidden (Caché). It’s possible that not all of his films are like this – he also directed Amour and The Piano Teacher – but I do know that people LOVE his films.
The White Ribbon is black and white and it is set in a rural German village just before the start of WWI. The use of black and white and the way the film has been lit, with very little augmented or artificial lighting, makes it feel like a very old film, like a Jean Renoir without the scratches and stagey acting. The film is narrated in retrospect by the school teacher and he recalls a year when odd and tragic things began to happen – the doctor is injured when his horse is tripped by a wire, a tenant farmer’s wife is killed in an accident at the sawmill, the young son of the local Baron is kidnapped and humiliated. No one knows who is responsible and you can see the machinations of small-town gossip and suspicion and the simmering resentment of the social divide between the villagers. We see the sins of the adults, the lust and greed and anger, and within this, the children of the village move and conspire and suffer. The children are memerising and strange, not in a Midwich Cuckoos or Children of the Corn kind of way, but in the way they are plain and invisible and scraped clean.
There was no neat resolution to this movie, the reaction of the girls as it faded to black was, “What!” but we talked about it and what it might mean, why there might be no answer. What made a difference for Tee was recognising that the children would have grown up to be the Nazis of WWII. So see this movie if you like to be challenged, if you like well crafted movies that frustrate but make you think about the nature of evil.