August 24, 2010

#093: The White Ribbon (8/10)

Is it possible to truly love a film, but not be able to recommend it? I don't really think it is, but if it were, The White Ribbon might fall into that category for me.  This film looks beautiful on bluray.  The black and white was phenomenal.  Aside from the crystal clear picture, it is hard to believe this movie was made this century.  Everything about it seems genuinely old, yet it has a style that feels so fresh.  I've had this movie sitting on my shelf for 2 weeks and never got around to watching it.  I may have been intimidated by a 2 hour 25 minute black and white film that is completely subtitled.  I am very glad I finally got around to watching it.  It is a film that I will not soon forget.  However, I am unable to recommend it without greatly qualifying it.  For me, it was so nice to see a film like this. My arbitrary number system will bestow an 8 out of 10.
Right after I finished this film I had to go read Roger Ebert's review.  I remember him fawning over this film several months ago. Now that I had seen it, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I thought he would focus on the great cinematography, and general tone.  These were my favorite things about it.  However, his praise was directed at the ideas the film presented, which are very subjective.  There are lot of themes explored here; such as guilt, innocence, self-control, religion, love, hate, etc... Each viewer has the ability to latch on different things, making The White Ribbon tell a different story to each individual.  I kinda wish I had seen the story that Roger Ebert saw.  For me, the over-arching premise of the film was somewhat unsatisfying.  I am not saying it is bad, I just didn't have much reaction to the the supposed climax.  So often we expect things to come together at the end of the film, and give us a nice little ending that answers our questions and gives us a sense of finality.  I don't always need that, but here I wanted more.  I think I got too caught up in the mystery, and lost focus on what really mattered; the process.  I think The White Ribbon could be quite satisfying upon a second viewing, because I won't fool myself into thinking we will get a Hollywood ending.  I will be more free to appreciate the details.

Over the past couple years as I have been watching more movies I have started to become cognizant of the director; something that I didn't pay much attention to before.  Last year I watched Haneke's 2007 film Funny Games.  I really enjoyed how he played with the audience in that film, but I felt it was a bit too exaggerated at times. In The White Ribbon he pulls it back a little bit.  He uses the same tactics to even greater effect here.  The story behind this film will be sculpted by your beliefs and preconceptions.  Likewise, when Haneke forces all of us to stand in the hallway as a husband shares a final moment with his dead wife, your imagination is left to fill in the details.  Even though our eyes are stopped before they can get to the doorway, our mind enters that room and feels the impact of the situation.  There is no sight of a corpse for us to dwell on.  It would only serve to pervert the purity of the moment.  There are other moments in the film where we are restricted by the director.  As our feet are nailed to the floor in a position that does not allow us to see exactly what is going on, we must use our imagination to craft the scene the way our mind sees it playing out.  This can be frustrating.  This can be interesting.  This can be wonderful.

There are some really great moments in The White Ribbon with two characters talking to one another.  Where some people might find boredom, I find joy in the well crafted interactions between human beings.  There is so much to be appreciated about this film, but like I said before, it didn't all come together for me that well.  This fact could cause many people to look back on this film as a waste of time.  I don't feel like my time was wasted.  In fact, I feel like I missed a lot of the things that should, or could, have spoken to me. However, if you are looking for a fun film that you can just sit back and enjoy, The White Ribbon probably isn't for you.  I think Haneke made a wonderful film that has the ability to transport the viewer back in time.  The aesthetic alone makes the film worth watching for me, even if the story doesn't have the ultimate release that I desired.

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