Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Review: The White Ribbon

I wanted to tell a story of a group of children who took the ideals practiced by their parents' generation and obeyed them blindly. But once you start to obey an ideal blindly, it becomes inhuman. That is at the root of every form of terrorism. -- Director Michael Haneke

Here is a movie that works on you ...

I'm not sure I can recommend "The White Ribbon", as I watched it yesterday afternoon and felt it to be unsettling. It takes place in a small, rural village in Northern Germany before World War I. A series of disturbing "accidents" takes place, graduating into more sinister acts, including atrocities on children.

We never really see them, because they're hidden under the guise of a simple, picturesque community ... brought out more so by the rich black and white cinematography -- color would have ruined this movie. The winter scenes feel almost purifying, despite the evil that always lurks beneath.

What we do see is a very stern and authoritarian society, where, primarily children receive ritualistic punishments for stepping out of line. Does this kind of treatment lead to the acts that are occurring in the town, a rebellious response maybe?

While the village tries to discover who is committing these acts, we start to feel that it is not really important "who dunnit," but rather that they were done in the first place. And the answer to that is likely more chilling than the acts themselves.

(Films du Losange, Sony Pictures Classics)
There's a common perception about this film that it was the birth of fascism and that some of these kids grew up to be Nazis. Susanne Lothar, who played the midwife in the film, recalled the words a child psychologist once told her.

"Everything a child experiences becomes an integral part of its character. A child's mind is like a freshly plowed field. If you walk in it wearing boots, you leave deep impacts. The older you get, the harder the soil gets. But the child's field is freshly plowed and soft, the boots are stiff and hard, and they leave deep marks. A child never forgets it, and as a grownup, passes on its humiliation."

While it very well could be a stepping stone toward the evil we see in World War II, it feels like it's a revelation of the evil that we are all susceptible to under the right circumstances.

Before I saw this film, I found the hymn that plays during the trailer -- "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" -- to be chilling without knowing what they were singing. I looked it up and found the following translation. As my apartment starts to darken, and rain starts to fall outside the window, I feel that, for as optimistic as some of the lyrics are, they convey a sense of foreboding in what we, demonstrated by this film, must face during our lives, wherever and whenever we may be.

A Mighty Fortress is our God
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

No comments: