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Film / The White Ribbon

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"But I believe I must tell of the strange events that occurred in our village, because they may cast a new light on some of the goings-on in this country."

The White Ribbon (Das Weiße Band - Eine Kindergeschichte) is a 2009 German Drama/Mystery film by Michael Haneke. Strange events happen in a small village in the north of Germany during the years just before World War I, which seem to be ritual punishment. The abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of this mystery.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: The entire plot revolves around parental brutality, repression and abuse against children.
  • Crapsack World: Systematic repression, child abuse, hierarchy, deprivation, and a grand total of about two sympathetic adult characters... and it's only going to get worse.
  • Creepy Child: The only exception seems to be the Pastor's youngest
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: The Pastor asks one of his sons if he masturbates. When the son admits that he does, the father has his hands tied to his bed at night.
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  • Deliberately Monochrome: The movie was originally shot in color and then altered to black and white in post-production in order to create a distance from a false naturalism that suggests we know exactly what happened.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: The Pastor denies the whole family dinner for his eldest two children's sin of staying out late.
  • Enfant Terrible: Near the end of the film, the schoolteacher theorises that the crimes might have been committed by the village children. The pastor bars him from investigating further, so we never find out if he's right or not.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Most of the adults are not given names in the film, instead being called Pastor, Baron, Steward, etc. This includes the narrator, who is only known as The School Teacher.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: The story is told from the view point of a secondary character (the school teacher). He admits that many details he only knows by hearsay.
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  • Ignored Enamored Underling: The midwife would do anything for the doctor's love.
  • Jerkass: The doctor towards the midwife.
  • McGuffin: The crimes. Ultimately it's not about whodunit, but how a society will set itself up for evil.
  • No Ending: The school teacher gets married and leaves, and the audience never has any answers as to who or what is causing the crimes.
  • Only Sane Man: The school teacher seems to be the only adult in the town without some dark secret or fanatical viewpoint. Though of course, he is the one narrating the story...
  • Parental Incest: The doctor and his daughter.
  • Prim and Proper Bun: The go-to hairstyle of the women in the village is a tight, tidy bun, which together with their dark dresses mirrors the conservative atmosphere of this community. The Pastor's daughter has begun wearing her hair this way, but is compelled to revert to a braid while the humiliating punishment of wearing a white ribbon in her hair lasts.
  • Replacement Goldfish: When Piepsi the songbird dies, the Pastor's youngest offers the bird he has nursed to health to replace him. Because his father seemed so sad.
  • Schoolmarm: The narrator is a male example.
  • Spiritual Successor: Whoever conceived this film must have been a reader of the Swiss psychologist Alice Miller, whose 1980 book Am Anfang war Erziehung (in English For Your Own Good) paints a detailed account of the kind of brutal, humiliating, authoritarian approach to parenting portrayed in this film as it was historically promoted and practiced in Germany, and theorizes that exposure to this over generations led to German society idolizing a dictator like Hitler and carrying out his orders to murder millions.
  • Silent Credits: There is no music or other sounds during the closing credits.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: A village with an unsolved mystery.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Possibly.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: We never learn who committed the crimes, leaving us with No Ending.


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