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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Christian Friedel
Leonie Benesch
Ulrich Tukur.
Directors
Michael Haneke.
Screenwriters
Michael Haneke.
Running Time
144 minutes

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The White Ribbon
The black-and-white shocker that got the Golden Palm


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Plot
Many years after the events unfold, a teacher recalls how, in the run-up to World War I, a small Lutheran village in northern Germany came to be plagued by a series of mysterious and increasingly disturbing incidents that began when the local doctor fell from his horse.


Review
The White Ribbon
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Although he has been working in film and TV for over 30 years, Michael Haneke is mostly linked with a series of films between 1997 and 2005 — Funny Games, The Piano Teacher and Hidden — that put his audiences through hell. Aloof and detached in its composition, this loose trilogy didn’t give its audience any wriggle room: if you didn’t like what was happening on screen, you could get up and leave, no problem. But if you stayed... well, that was a matter for you and your conscience.

After Hidden, Haneke baffled his admirers by making Funny Games US, a note-for-note English-language copy of his keynote film. It flopped, causing some to wonder if Haneke was really so strapped for ideas that he was reduced to translating old scripts. But, thankfully, his ‘comeback’ film — as in, his return to Europe — is perhaps his finest yet. Less hectoring, less deliberately provocative and, most surprisingly, less intimidatingly authored than his most famous films, The White Ribbon doesn’t feel like a film at all, more like the disturbing daydream of a more political and less playful David Lynch.

That said, The White Ribbon is undoubtedly a slog. It is, after all, a two-and-a-half-hour subtitled film in black and white, with a cast of unknowns and an awful lot of (unreliable) narration. But where previous Haneke films often feel like the director waiting to test you post-credits, The White Ribbon is actually a very free and immersive experience. For a start, it looks incredible, like an antique postcard come to life, and where Hollywood movies fall down — body-shapes, faces, hairstyles — every extra here is perfect. But more than that, this is a film that accumulates its power, and although not much happens (that we see) or is even revealed (that we know), there’s a lot to take in, and even more to think about.

Though it poses as a thriller, The White Ribbon is nothing of the sort. It’s a film about climates of violence, and by taking World War I Germany as its primary location, it asks fascinating questions about that very troubled country. Where was Nazism really born — was it in the genes, was it in society, or was it simply a blip, a tragic, Fortean freak of nature? For once, Haneke doesn’t force the issues he raises, and his poetic, haunting essay is all the better for it.


Verdict
A hard film to love, but a hypnotic meditation on all the elements — gossip, religion, bullying — that can turn a parish and country bad.


Reviewed by Damon Wise

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The White Ribbon
Empire Star Rating

MASTERPIECE

could be even better than HIDDEN ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bobbyperu at 23:55, 24 February 2011 | Report This Post


Academy Awards sucks

The white ribbOn was the best foregin movie, and why that movie didn't get Oscar? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by shady_88 at 17:58, 09 August 2010 | Report This Post


A masterpiece - though you wouldn't know it if you read Empire

The coverage given to this movie by Empire highlights a problem that often brings me close to not reading the magazine again. It’s not that I’m looking for it to be Sight & Sound but occasionally I’d like a movie to be reviewed on its merits – not whether it would stretch the faculties of your average 15 year old boy. I saw this film last night and was absolutely mesmerised by it. Stunning images, deeply disturbing subtext – it takes its time and worms its way i... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by packetman at 10:08, 18 March 2010 | Report This Post


Strange events at a small town German school in 1913 cause frictions among the locals and lead the local scool teacher to suspect the local school kids. There is no doubting Haneke's filmaking abilities, and the B & W cinematography is stunning, but at 140 minutes long this starts to outstay its welcome quite quickly, and the lack of any resolution may please cineastes that say its an allegory for fascism and the start of WWI, but for others it just seems rambling and without focus ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by duncan1964 at 09:22, 10 February 2010 | Report This Post


Strange events at a small town German school in 1913 cause frictions among the locals and lead the local scool teacher to suspect the local school kids. There is no doubting Haneke's filmaking abilities, and the B & W cinematography is stunning, but at 140 minutes long this starts to outstay its welcome quite quickly, and the lack of any resolution may please cineastes that say its an allegory for fascism and the start of WWI, but for others it just seems rambling and without focus ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by duncan1964 at 09:22, 10 February 2010 | Report This Post


The White Ribbon

Following its success at Cannes this year i have been eagerly anticipating Michael Haneke's latest for quite sometime. I'm glad to say it dosent disappoint and is in fact his best film to date. The White Ribbon is a powerful and disturbing film that makes your brain think all the way to th end. Its often a creepy and chilling acount of society on the edge of collapse. Who burned down the barn? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Soprano168 at 20:09, 12 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant, disturbing, thought-provoking

I wouldn't say it was a complaint, more a caveat. ps for your own sake, look up the word 'implicit' ... More

Posted by Gator at 01:11, 10 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant, disturbing, thought-provoking

My problem with it is that the only complaint about the film in the entire review is, and I quote, that it's a "two-and-a-half-hour subtitled film in black and white, with a cast of unknowns and an awful lot of (unreliable) narration". Why is that a bad thing? I mean, if he'd criticized the film for its dryness, and said that two and a half hours of humour-free film can be a bit hard sometimes, that's fair enough, but it's ridiculous that the only complaint that the guy had was that it's a "two... More

Posted by Piles at 22:09, 08 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant, disturbing, thought-provoking

I think he's saying that it is a long film, in a foreign language, with no star names and an often contradictory storyline, which Empire readers might struggle with. Still, they did OK with Transformers 2. ... More

Posted by Gator at 09:52, 08 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant, disturbing, thought-provoking

"That said, The White Ribbon is undoubtedly a slog. It is, after all, a two-and-a-half-hour subtitled film in black and white, with a cast of unknowns and an awful lot of (unreliable) narration."   What the hell is this? I expect that from a randomer on the street but this is supposes to be a professional film critic. ... More

Posted by Piles at 17:09, 07 December 2009 | Report This Post


Brilliant, disturbing, thought-provoking

Astonishing film, Hanekes finest yet.   I was quite tired when I went in to watch it but after 20 mins I was sitting up engrossed in it all from start to finish.   There is so much going on in the film you could sit and talk about it for ages and still just about scratch the surface.   It is preying on my mind now and probably will continue to do so.   Very much an Haneke film so if you are not a fan of his, this probably wont change your mind.   Am... More

Posted by MartinBlank76 at 13:53, 24 November 2009 | Report This Post


RE: A hard film to love is accurate - but I loved it!!!

Oh now I can't wait. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 11:39, 20 November 2009 | Report This Post


A hard film to love is accurate - but I loved it!!!

A glorious experience. I've been left a bit underwhelmed by the recent big winners exhibitioned at Cannes - but this one delivers the goods in abundance. Wonderful to look it, brilliantly performed, fantastically written, unnerving in its atmosphere and fascinating both in its social and political context. Haneke's best film and my favourite of this year by some considerable distance. A masterpiece! ... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 00:22, 20 November 2009 | Report This Post


RE: A hard film to love is accurate!

Can't wait for this actually, I love Hanake and this sounds really fascinating. It does have diegetic music right?ou know, like The Piano Teacher. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 22:54, 15 November 2009 | Report This Post


A hard film to love is accurate!

Some of the cinematography in this film is jaw-dropping and I can't think of a film that generates such a sense of unease. There were however moments during the film when I asked myself why I had come to see it, only to be thrown another scene that was absorbing. I found myself thinking about this film on the drive on the way home like no film I have ever seen, and I have seen many thought provoking films. Many questions are left unanswered. Aside from the historical significance this is rea... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by RustNS at 14:27, 15 November 2009 | Report This Post


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