In his masterful movie, “The White Ribbon,” he shows what at first appears to be a quaint pre-World War I German village, then lifts up the societal rock, revealing sickness and brutality inflicted by the local fathers on their children and wives. At 2 hours and 25 minutes, “The White Ribbon” moves slowly, but with lethal determination to expose one horrific incident after another, which barely break the surface of complacency in this picturesque provincial world.
Filmed by Director of Photography Christian Berger in stark black and white, and without a note of soundtrack music, the film’s story is told by the aging narrator (Ernst Jacobi) about one summer when, as a 31-yearold school teacher (Christian Friedel), he is the only male adult in the village, who is not a monster.
He tells us of the many atrocities, which include beatings, arson, animal cruelties, female humiliations and even the strange total destruction of a large cabbage patch. Concluding that children’s acting-out is responsible for much of the unexplained violence, he goes to the local pastor (Burghart Klaussner) with his findings, only to be threatened with imprisonment. A sadist himself, the pastor is hardly the one from which to elicit sympathy. He ties white ribbons to his children as reminders of shame and the danger of sacrificing youthful innocence.
Of course, these are children who will grow up to embrace the Third Reich, replacing their white ribbons for swastikas.