Blu-Ray Review: Masterful ‘The White Ribbon’ Dissects Root of Evil

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CHICAGO – Michael Haneke is one of our best living filmmakers, having already delivered at least one masterpiece in the amazing “Cache” and a few other notable works like “Funny Games,” “The Piano Teacher,” and “Code Unknown.” Those familiar with the quality of his filmography may be stunned to learn that “The White Ribbon” is arguably his best. Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0

The writer/director has reportedly claimed that “The White Ribbon” is about the rise of any kind of terrorism but there is a clear biographical through line between the story of the film and the rise of the Nazi party during World War II. This is a film about the development of Evil (with a capital E). But it is also a personal, relatable story about a community in crisis. However one reads it, the film is a powerful, searing work about the darkness kept hidden not behind just closed doors but sometimes dangerously within the souls of community leaders — religious, medial, political, and educational.

The White Ribbon was released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 29th, 2010
The White Ribbon was released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 29th, 2010
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Video

The Blu-ray release of “The White Ribbon” highlights some of the most striking imagery of the last decade in stunning HD from the spectacular cinematographer Christian Berger but it’s the way Haneke uses his jaw-dropping compositions that make this a perfect film. It’s not an easy one to dissect nor shake off when it’s over but the right audiences will find it as rewarding as any BD you could buy this year.

The White Ribbon was released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 29th, 2010
The White Ribbon was released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 29th, 2010
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Video

“The White Ribbon” takes place in Eichwald, Germany in 1913 and 1914. It is a close-knit community led by one doctor, one teacher, one pastor, and one baron who dictate what is right and wrong, overseeing and controlling much of the action in their vicinity. The pastor is rigid; the teacher (who narrates the story as a memory) is kind; the baron is tough on his employees; the doctor is outwardly gentle but hides remarkable evil.

The novel-esque story of “The White Ribbon” opens with an attack on the doctor and his horse and, shortly thereafter, a female worker of the baron dies in his sawmill and the worker’s son seeks revenge, highlighting clear social issues that threaten to tear apart the community. But the outward class conflict of “The White Ribbon” hides something much more sinister. The mystery deepends when the baron’s son is abducted and tortured. Then there is a fire.

There will be answers to some of these mysteries but, as any Haneke fan can tell you, it is the questions themselves, not their answers that interest him. He is much more interested in the journey and the themes it highlights than the destination.

The White Ribbon was released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 29th, 2010
The White Ribbon was released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 29th, 2010
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Video

“The White Ribbon” is an undeniably slow film but it also has an amazing way to burrow under your skin and linger long in your memory. Don’t watch it with any distractions and don’t dare split it up into multiple viewings. Let it work its spell, methodically, as it unfolds. What may first come off as slow and cold will quickly become hypnotic and mesmerizing.

Very few films have ever so thoroughly recreated not just a few characters in a time period but an entire community. Eichwald has been fully realized and the roles each character plays in it are so well-defined that it creates an authenticity within the film that’s rare, especially for one that looks this amazing.

There are works of film that are visually sumptuous and works that are often referred to as realism, but it is remarkably rare to find one that can accurately be called both. “The White Ribbon” contains images that could be works of art and yet it is the people that give the film its dramatic power. It as completely well-rounded and memorable as any film released in 2009.

The Blu-ray release includes a few interesting special features including a featurette about Haneke that offers interviews with regular collaborators and several interviews with the reclusive filmmaker himself.

“The White Ribbon” stars Christian Friedel, Ulrich Tukur, Burghart Kalubner, and Rainer Bock. It was written and directed by Michael Haneke. It was released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 29th, 2010 and is rated R. content director Brian Tallerico

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