Review: The White Ribbon DVD

STUDIO: Sony | DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke | CAST: Christian Friedel, Burghart, Klaussner, Rainer Bock, Ernst Jacobi, Ursina Lardi
RELEASE DATE: 6/29/2010 | PRICE: DVD $28.95, Blu-ray $38.96
BONUSES: twp featurettes, Cannes Film Festival premiere, interview with director
SPECS: R | 144 min. | Foreign language drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround | German with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

The critic is loathe to be the contrarian about a film that others he respects have hailed as not only one of the best of the year, but one of the best in the last 10 years. But Michale Haneke’s The White Ribbon inspires at least mild loathing.

I was suitably mesmerized by Haneke’s Cache and think about it often (higher praise for a film, there is none); I was made physically ill by Funny Games (the original) and fascinated by the shot-by-shot U.S. remake; and Isabelle Huppert’s award-winning turn in The Piano Player was crucial in enjoying the mysterious tension that Haneke so successfully constructed.

But The White Ribbon … I hung in there to the bitter end — and it is bitter — waiting for the Big Reveal or deciding factor or whatever was going to suddenly materialize and connect the stack of scenes that came before and crystallize the metaphor in my mind. And it is a metaphor, right? Of pre-World War I Germany? I read that somewhere. But I didn’t get it from the movie. Maybe I don’t know enough about pre-War Germany for the metaphor to manifest.

In any case, this is the first Haneke movie that made me feel like I wanted my 145 minutes back. But if you’ve got the disc ready to load into the Blu-ray player, you may as well get it over with.

Shot in color but transferred to rich black-and-white, the film opens with an aging narrator explaining the mysterious, dangerous crimes that are being committed in an isolated German village before World War I. Christian Friedel is the sincere young school teacher telling the tale, and his suspicion about who has strung a trip wire, burned a barn, killed a child falls on . . . the children. Not the bizarrely merciless doctor (Rainer Bock) or the cruel and unforgiving pastor (Burghart Klaussner) but the stone-faced children who seem to have little joy in their lives thanks to the overbearing nature of the grownups.

Long scenes of single-shot dialog take place; wheels spin; things happen off screen that impact the previous scene. It’s a whodunit and a why-dunit, but the resolutions are not forthcoming. Meh.

Maybe it’s me.

The bonus material on the DVD is the usual stuff from a Haneke film. A self-congratulatory behind-the-scenes documentary, a rundown of Haneke’s career, a travelogue of the Cannes screening and a begrudging interview with the Great One himself. This film would have benefited from a commentary track.


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About Buzz

Buzz McClain reviews DVDs for Playboy magazine and is a former critic for Video Business magazine. But what he really wants to do is direct.