"Das Dorf der Verdammten"
In memory, a tailor recalls 15 extraordinary months when the village of Eichwald, Germany was beset by tragedies that divided the populace, as small as it was. The town is a self-sufficient cell, run by a Baron, who is a somewhat benevolent provider and moral leader in the Protestant community, the town's schedule built around the growing seasons and the natural order of things. All is calm in the Lynchian manner of normal.
But, the tenant-farmer's wife is killed in an industrial accident when she falls through a rotten floor-board into the gears of machinery, the doctor cannot save her, and the family is thrown into despair—some seeing it as an unfortunate accident, others blame the Baron for the negligence of the floor's up-keep. It becomes either The Way Things Are, or a conspiracy and a schism occurs amongst the reverent.
Soon, other "accidents" occur: the doctor suffers an injuring fall when his horse is fallen by a trip-wire. The Baron's cabbages are scythed into pulp, and his son is found hog-tied and beaten. The Baron's wife is horrified and takes her son to a retreat in Italy. Relationships implode and families are torn asunder, and no one can figure out why. The incidents escalate, and no one does anything.
Parallel to this story the teacher (who will age to become the Narrator) begins a chaste romance with the Baron's nanny, and notices a change in his students—they're becoming more rebellious, less prone to obedience, something noticed also by the Minister, who, in an attempt to impress his brood, ties a white ribbon in his eldest daughter's hair and a white sash around his first son's arm to remind them of their "innocence and purity" when they were younger. But, what was once a declaration of love and pride in their early years is now a punishment.
This is another of what we can now call director Michael Haneke's "Fables"—small stories of incident with lessons that reflect a larger truth about mankind and history. Shot in color, but processed in a distancing and denatured black and white, the shadows of the interiors of the houses are sometimes impenetrably dark and some individuals are made out only at the bare margin of perceptibility. Perception is important in "The White Ribbon," as it reflects what we see when we want to see it and how we interpret it. That parts of the escalating problems plaguing Eichwald in "The White Ribbon" are due to hubris and denial.
The film and incidents end at the assassination of the Arch-duke Ferdinand, where, of course, everything starts to go down-hill, but even at the start of the slide, implies Haneke, the seeds of the Holocaust were sewn in the fields of a blind aristocracy. And Fascism begins at home.
"The White Ribbon" is a Full-Price Ticket.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
The White Ribbon
"Das Dorf der Verdammten"